John Steinbeck crafted many of his stories and novels around settings in the Salinas Valley, a prominent area of Northern California. After all, Steinbeck was born and raised in Salinas. Of Mice and Men is set at a ranch not many miles from the small town of Soledad. In the...
John Steinbeck crafted many of his stories and novels around settings in the Salinas Valley, a prominent area of Northern California. After all, Steinbeck was born and raised in Salinas. Of Mice and Men is set at a ranch not many miles from the small town of Soledad. In the opening chapter he describes the place where George and Lennie stop on their way to work at a ranch. It is up against the Gabilan Mountains, which provide the eastern border of the valley, and below these mountains is the Salinas River:
On one side of the river the golden foothill slopes curve up to the strong rocky Gabilan mountains, but on the valley side the water is lined with trees—willows fresh and green with every spring, carrying in their lower leaf junctures the debris of the winter flooding; and sycamores with mottled, white, recumbent limbs and branches that arch over the pool.
This tranquil little spot is featured in both Chapter One and the final chapter of Steinbeck's novella, but there is otherwise very little description of the valley in Of Mice and Men. In contrast, Steinbeck spends most of Chapter One (and in sections of other chapters) of his later (and quite possibly his best) novel East of Eden describing the valley. It is some of his finest writing and it is easy to get a good feel for the geography of the Salinas Valley by reading the opening chapter of the novel which fictionally tells the story of his family in Salinas and surrounding areas. He opens the chapter depicting the river, the mountains and the rich farmland:
It is a long narrow swale between two ranges of mountains, and the Salinas River winds and twists up its center until it falls at last into Monterey Bay...The floor of the Salinas Valley, between the ranges and below the foothills, is level because this valley used to be the bottom of a hundred mile inlet from the sea...On the wide level acres of the valley the topsoil lay deep and fertile. It required only a rich winter of rain to make it break forth in grass and flowers.
Steinbeck even helps us to understand the names of the places, mostly taken from the Spanish who began exploring the land beginning in the 16th century. According to Steinbeck the places were named for geographic features, animals and birds:
Gabilanes for the hawks which flew in those mountains; Topo for the mole; Los Gatos for the wild cats. The suggestions sometimes came from the nature of the place itself: Tassajara, a cup and a saucer; Laguna Seca, a dry lake; Corral de Tierra for a fence of earth; Paraiso because it was like Heaven.