Of Mice and Men Themes Lesson Plan
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Themes Developed Through Conflict:
This lesson plan examines how major themes in Of Mice and Men are developed through conflicts experienced by several characters in the novella. Students will analyze and interpret passages from the text to describe the characters, summarize their circumstances, identify their internal and/or external conflicts, and determine themes suggested by their conflicts. By analyzing the characters’ conflicts, students will be better able to identify universal themes in the novella and describe how they illustrate the human condition.
By the end of this lesson, students will be able to
- place Of Mice and Men in historical and literary context;
- define and explain internal conflict, external conflict, dramatic tension, theme, and universal theme;
- describe characters in the text, summarize their circumstances, identify their conflicts, and explain how their conflicts are resolved;
- identify and describe universal themes developed through the characters’ conflicts.
Skills: close reading, analysis, summarizing, identifying cause/effect relationships, drawing inferences and themes from a text
Common Core Standards: RL.9-10.1, RL.9-10.2, RL.9-10.3, RL.9-10.5, SL.9-10.1
John Steinbeck, born in 1902 in Salinas, California, was a prolific American author who wrote thirty-one books before his death in 1968. In 1962, Steinbeck also became the sixth American author to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Steinbeck’s two most famous works, Of Mice and Men (1937) and The Grapes of Wrath (1939), depict the plight of the working-class poor as they struggle to survive economic and social injustice during the Great Depression. The Grapes of Wrath remains Steinbeck’s signature work, but critics often acknowledge that the novella Of Mice and Men renders with compact eloquence the same tragic realities and acts of redemptive compassion found in The Grapes of Wrath.
Of Mice and Men follows migrant farm workers George Milton and Lennie Small as they seek the American dream: personal freedom, financial security, and a home of their own. For George and Lennie, the dream of owning a small farm where they can work for themselves and live off their land remains elusive, despite their struggles to attain it. Poor and homeless, they find work on a prosperous ranch in the Salinas Valley, where forces beyond their control lead to the novella’s haunting and tragic conclusion. The topics of economic and social injustice often found in Steinbeck’s fiction are developed in Of Mice and Men, but other themes emerge, as well, in the book’s examination of isolation, loneliness, loyalty, compassion, and sacrifice.
As the story unfolds and the characters are developed, Steinbeck’s novella is rich in conflicts and contrasts: courage vs. cowardice, kindness vs. cruelty, and hope vs. despair. Of Mice and Men presents readers with an examination of the human condition that is sometimes brutal but often inspiring. Through George, Lennie, and those with whom their lives become inextricably intertwined, Steinbeck reveals the best and the worst in the human heart.
Since its initial publication in 1937, Of Mice and Men continues to engage audiences with its depiction of aspiration and suffering. The novella, which was written with an emphasis on dialogue, has been produced as a Broadway play and adapted three times as a feature film.
Content Notice: The text excerpted for this lesson plan includes racial slurs.
About this Document
- An introduction to the text
- A step-by-step guide to lesson procedure
- Previous and following lesson synopses for preparation and extension ideas
- A collection of handouts and worksheets complete with answer keys