Which stylistic devices are used in John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Most of the novel, or novella, is told through description and dialogue. There is hardly any prose exposition. This is because John Steinbeck fully intended to convert the book into a stage play to be produced in New York in 1937, the same year the book was published. He called his book "a playable novel" because it reads pretty much like a script for a stage play. It was extremely easy to adapt it into a script. All the dialogue is already written. The descriptions could be converted into stage directions in the script. Most importantly, everything the audience learns is conveyed through what the characters say and do. This makes Of Mice and Men different from most novels, in which there is either an anonymous narrator telling the story or a minor-character narrator such as Nick Carraway in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Of Mice and Men contains virtually no narration or exposition, only description and dialogue. It is impossible to understand this work stylistically without knowing that it is "a playable novel," intended to be swiftly turned into a stage play. This explains why there are really only two important sets, both indoors. One is the bunkhouse, where most of the action takes place. The other is the barn where Curley's wife is murdered. Crooks' room is really just a part of the barn. The scene by the river could be represented on stage by little more than a fake campfire lighted by a couple of red lightbulbs.

Steinbeck needed two principal characters rather than just one. He relied heavily on dialogue and was a good dialogue writer, one of the best in America. George and Lennie can talk to each other and convey all necessary information to the reader, just as in a stage play. If Steinbeck had used an anonymous narrator or a minor-character narrator, he might have had only one main character. George has to keep explaining why he and Lennie travel around together. The main reason is that Steinbeck needed two main characters so that they could do a lot of talking to each other. The fact that Lennie is mentally handicapped means that George is always explaining things to him--and at the same time George is conveying information to the reader or the audience.

Although the story takes place on a big California ranch where men and horses toil in the fields, this is never shown. Some things are suggested by sound effects, such as horses stomping and horseshoes hitting "ringers" on the iron stake outside the barn. There is also the sound of a shot to signify that Carlson has just killed Candy's old dog outside. The sound effects described in the novel are intended to be used offstage in the play. You might refer to this as a stylistic device.

The most important things to emphasize about stylistic devices in Of Mice and Men would be dialogue and description. Much of the dialogue is in dialect, which is something you might comment on. These men are all uneducated and show their ignorance of grammar and proper verb tenses. You can see how Steinbeck characterizes Crooks, for example, mainly by describing his room and contents, along with his uniique dialogue. The description of the bunkhouse in the second chapter is excellent, and it is intended to be the stage set in the play. Readers appreciate the details such as the apple boxes over each bunk containing the men's meager possessions.

Both the book and the play were successful when they came out in 1937 and made Steinbeck famous. The story was twice made into important Hollywood motion pictures because it is so "playable."

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Of Mice and Men

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