Of Mice and Men Questions and Answers
by John Steinbeck

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What is direct characterization in Of Mice and Men?

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An author can use either direct or indirect characterization to describe a character.  When an author uses direct characterization, he is telling you about the characters.  When he uses indirect characterization, you learn about the characters indirectly, through what they say and do and what other characters say about them.

For example, when the narrator describes the characters, this is direct characterization.  Characterization might describe either physical or personality traits.  Here is a direct characterization of George.

The first man was small and quick, dark of face, with restless eyes and sharp, strong features. Every part of him was defined: small, strong hands, slender arms, a thin and bony nose. (Ch. 1)

This is direct characterization because it tells you exactly what he looks like.

On the other hand, here is some indirect characterization of George.

George looked sharply at him. "What'd you take outa that pocket?"

"Ain't a thing in my pocket," Lennie said cleverly.

"I know there ain't. You got it in your hand. What you got in your hand- hidin' it?" (Ch. 1)

 This shows that George knows how to read Lennie well, and from his interaction with Lennie we learn many things about George.  We learn that, despite the fact that he sometimes loses his temper, he is patient and patriarchal.  He looks out for Lennie, such as in this instance.  He knows that Lennie might pick up dead things like the mouse, and he has to protect him from it.  He acts more like a father or older brother than a traveling companion.

The mix of direct and indirect characterization used in this first introduction of George tells us a lot.  First of all, George is smaller than Lennie but he is obviously in charge.  Lennie needs looking after.  He is big, but he is not quite right in the head.  He respects George, but more like a child does a parent than man to man.  We learn all of this both directly and indirectly, through Steinbeck's excellent descriptions, what the characters say to each other, and what the characters do.

In this story of two men who go around together during the Great Depression, the narrator often hangs back and tells the story without judgement.  Indirect characterization allows the story to unfold, with the characters telling the reader about themselves.  Yet when the narrator tells the reader directly about the characters, that is when we should listen, because we can get some extra insight.

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mcmoira13 | Student

Direct characterization is one strategy authors use to describe a character. It is, simply, the narrator's direct and clear description of a character. By contrast, indirect characterization is when an author chooses to describe a character through his or her thoughts, words, and actions.

In Of Mice and Men, the characters are described by a third person narrator who is omniscient and objective. This type of narration is without bias, which means readers can trust that what the narrator says is true. The reader's trust in a narrator gives a novel its credibility.

John Steinbeck's writing style is at once simple and descriptive. As a result, the novel is rich with both direct and indirect characterization. An example of direct characterization can be found in the fourth paragraph of the book, when the reader is first introduced to George and Lennie.

The first description of is of George. "The first man was small and quick, dark of face, with restless eyes and sharp, strong features. Every part of him was defined: small, strong hands, slender arms, a thin and bony nose." The narrator has given a strong picture of George's features and overall appearance. This is immediately followed by the contrasting image of Lennie. "Behind him walked his opposite, a huge man, shapeless of face, with large, pale eyes, and wide, sloping shoulders; and he walked heavily, dragging his feet a little, the way a bear drags his paws. His arms did not swing at his sides, but hung loosely." This direct characterization makes it clear to the reader how the two men are very different from one another in appearance.

In the following paragraph, the narrator shows Lennie taking big gulps of water from a green pond while George scolds him for drinking water that isn't running. The characters' actions and dialogue in this scene are examples of indirect characterization, since they show the reader behaviors and thoughts that reveal insights into each of the characters. They are not examples of direct characterization, since they do not explicitly describe the characters.

Please see the link below for additional examples of direct and indirect characterization.