What are the characteristics of the genre in Of Mice and Men?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The genre of John Steinbeck's novella Of Mice and Men features a unique style which combines the elements of a novel with the elements of the basic play, fusing them within the genre of fictional tragedy. Among its most salient features, Of Mice and Men is quite limited in terms of setting, plot, characters, topic, and timeframe. These limitations, however, do not constitute a negative trait of the genre. The fact that Steinbeck is so focal and specific in his novel is what makes the characteristics of the genre in Of Mice and Men to be considered what, in modern vocabulary, could be classified as a "hybrid", or a "fusion", tragic novel.

It terms of the specific characteristics of the genre, consider the focal and allegorical setting of the novel. The South of Soledad, California (Soledad being the Spanish word for "Loneliness") is the arid and deserted location of the farm to which George and Lennie go to find employment. Like the name of the town implies, this is a place of lonely hearts, and broken dreams; of hard work and little pay. Additionally, the characteristic tone of the narrative in a tragedy is doomed, and fatalistic. This is the same tone that is sensed throughout the novel in its entirety.

The characters equally mirror the tragic atmosphere of the setting. Lennie is a man whose mental incapacity renders him unable to depend on himself. George is a man who dreams big and expects almost nothing good to ever happen. Crooks is a lonely man who is discriminated against. Candy is old and equally lonesome. Even Curley's wife, who provides a somewhat aesthetic relief to the overall backdrop of the novel, is a broken woman. In a tragedy, destiny and fate seem to overpower the will of the characters. This is evidently the case in Of Mice and Men.

Another notable characteristic of tragedy in the novel is the time-frame in which the plot develops. The entrance of George and Lennie, the abuse that they endure, and the end of their American Dream, occur in a matter of three days, at most. It is almost as if fate is waiting for them in Soledad to completely take over them, beat them down, and leave them bleeding on the ground. Rather than preparing the reader for the final tragedy through a prolongued timeline of ups and downs, Steinbeck throws the reader immediately into the catastrophe. This particular feature is what fuses the style of the novel, from a mere third person omniscient narrative, into what could be considered a "play" novel where the action is limited to one very specific frame of time.

The final tragedy is perhaps even worse than what the reader expects: George mercifully kills his best friend, Lennie, to save him a much more torturous and pathetic death by lynching. This is an obvious sign of the tragic lives that George and Lennie were destined to endure from the beginning: two thankless lives that would end in pain and death.

Therefore, the characteristics of genre in Of Mice and Men that are most noteworthy consist on the tragic atmosphere, tone, and nature of the characters. The characteristics of tragedy also include literary devices that make the novel unique in style, for it combines the elements of the traditional play. These elements include specific and limited time-frames, settings, topics, and characters. The novel is a classic precisely because of these unique traits.

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Of Mice and Men

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