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

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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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.