In Of Mice and Men, what is John Steinbeck's style?

Expert Answers
Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In one sense, Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck, is a very simple novel. The reading level has been assessed at 8.1, meaning an eighth-grader in the first month of school should be able to understand the writing, though the thematic elements are certainly more challenging than the reading itself. In another way, his style is complex and perfectly suited to his subject matter.

Steinbeck uses simple language, which perfectly fits the characters, theme, and setting of this novel. The two main characters are simple (in fact, one is simple-minded) ranch hands who want very little out of life. They work hard and hope it will one day pay off for them in the form of a farm. Steinbeck's description is not ornate in any way; in fact, he is almost terse in his brevity.

Crooks had reduced himself to nothing. There was no personality, no ego--nothing to arouse either like or dislike.

In these few words, Steinbeck manages to convey Crooks and his approach to life: he has allowed himself to be reduced to nothing. 

Steinbeck also writes colloquially, meaning he writes just as his characters (in this novel, these ranch hands) would talk. They are men who are not used to being around women, so their conversation is a little "salty." Steinbeck uses the same slang, rhythms, repetitions, and contractions these men would have used when talking, as in the following passage:

“A guy needs somebody―to be near him. A guy goes nuts if he ain't got nobody. Don't make no difference who the guy is, long's he's with you. I tell ya, I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an' he gets sick.” 

Conversely, the dialogue of a more refined character would be different, a reflection of that character's speech patterns.

Finally, Steinbeck uses figurative language sparingly but effectively. Note the following two passages; while they are simple and straightforward, they are only as detailed as they need to be to evoke a response in his readers.

A water snake glided smoothly up the pool, twisting its periscope head from side to side; and it swam the length of the pool and came to the legs of a motionless heron that stood in the shadows. A silent head and beak lanced down and plucked it out by the head, and the beak swallowed the little snake while its tail waved frantically.

At about 10 o'clock in the morning the sun threw a bright dust-laden bar through one of the side windows and in and out of the beam flies shot like rushing stars. 

We see and hear what we need to see and hear, but nothing more than that. The figurative language does not intrude or deflect; it only enhances.

Steinbeck's style is distinctive and known for its simplicity, its colloquialisms, and its effective imagery.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

John Steinbeck was both a storyteller and a social critic. In his novella Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck employs what has been termed a "visionary style" with realism providing the surface form for Steinbeck's broader interest in the unconscious, recurring myths, and symbolic characters in a carefully structured narrative.

Steinbeck's realism is often veneering for his keen interest in the philosophy of fraternity, symbolic characters, and the psychology of the unconscious and that of the mob. Often his narratives demonstrate how the pastoral setting in which there appears to be a certain contentment deteriorates because of the actions of men. The opening scene of Section 1, the clearing into which George and Lennie enter is a scene of harmony for the various animals that come to drink from the pool. But, while George and Lennie are there, they quarrel, breaking the peace and foreshadowing future social dynamics in the narrative. Later, in the quiet of nature--"A dove's wings whistled over the water"--George recites their dream of owning a farm and Lennie laughs "delightedly." Shortly after this recitation and their meal, George goes over with Lennie how he will conduct himself before the new boss and keep quiet, suggesting future tension.

Later in the narrative, George and Lennie interact with other men at the ranch where they work. As one of Steinbeck's symbolic characters, the muleskinner named Slim is "calm" and possessive of "God-like eyes," and his skill and intelligence are apparent. One day he talks with George about Lennie. George tells Slim how he and Lenny began "going around together," and he admits to how he took advantage of Lennie until the trusting man almost drowned when he jumped into deep water simply because George told him to do so. Ashamed of his cruelty, George stopped exploiting Lennie. However, in contrast to George's sympathy for Lennie, Carlson wants to kill the swamper's old dog, and he is later part of the mob who go after Lennie when Curley's wife is found dead.

Throughout Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men there are peaceful and hopeful incidents and interactions when the fraternity of men exists, but just as in the poem after which the novella is entitled, the cruelty of human nature intervenes, and

The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley, [often go awry]
An' lea'e us nought [leave us nothing] but grief an' pain,
For promised joy.

When Curley's wife's lifeless body is discovered, all social dynamics deteriorate with the mob psychology that takes hold of the men. Then, as in other works of Steinbeck's, the pastoral world disappears. The once peaceful clearing to which Lennie has fled in obedience to George's instructions now becomes a place of "grief and pain."