Why does Steinbeck use animal imagery when George described Lennie as a bull?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Steinbeck's use of animal imagery through George describing Lennie "as strong as a bull" represents both a stylistic element and an aspect of Lennie's characterization.

In the novella, animals occupy a significant role.  Its title is taken from Burns's poem, "To A Mouse."  The novella's opening paragraph talks about lizards, rabbits, and raccoons, as well as dogs and deer.  Steinbeck describes Lennie through animal imagery, as well.  His opening description of Lennie has him "dragging his feet a little, the way a bear drags his paws." Animals are also evident in Lennie’s conversations with George. From mice, to puppies, to the rabbits, Lennie’s love of animals represents a significant element to Lennie’s dreams.  He is fascinated with animals.  From his conversations with George, there is nothing in the world more beautiful for Lennie than animals and his ability to pet or tend to them.

When George describes Lennie as "strong as a bull," it is a stylistic means to continue the use of animal imagery.  In chapter 2, Lennie immediately smiles at the comparison. Upon hearing George's description, he repeats it softly to himself, in an almost adoring manner.  He believes that George has paid him the ultimate complement in describing him as "strong as a bull."  This use of animal imagery continues an aspect of literary style.   It also provides a glimpse into Lennie, enabling the reader to develop a deeper understanding of him.