Student Question

Can you help develop a thesis on the theme of sacrifice in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, supported with six quotations?

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Sacrifice is a primary theme that runs through the entire novel, so there are many possible examples on which to draw. Identifying the strongest examples is an important first step to developing a thesis that is supported by the text. Two distinct approaches would be to concentrate on George and Lennie, as they are the main characters, and identify three arguments that support their sacrifices, or to select supporting characters and identify one argument that relates to each character. This answer draws on the latter approach.

John Steinbeck presents a fictional situation that approximates the difficulties that many people faced during the Great Depression. In order to earn a living, people often accepted very difficult circumstances which required them to make sacrifices of various kinds. In the novel, some of the things people sacrifice are money, companionship, and excitement; the minor characters for whom Steinbeck develops these ideas are Candy, Crooks, and Curley’s wife respectively. Candy wants security, which he cannot achieve on his own; he is willing to sacrifice his life savings to achieve it as part of George and Lennie’s ranch. Crooks, because he is African American, must live in segregated housing. In order to have a job, he sacrifices companionship in his lonely life in a separate room. Curley’s wife wants attention and excitement; she ends up sacrificing her life because she misjudges Lennie.

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When forming a thesis statement about a given topic in a work of literature, one must try to state an argument that demonstrates original thought on that topic. A thesis should essentially be argumentative, brief, clear, and direction-providing to the reader. In the text Of Mice and Men, the topic of sacrifice, albeit the darker side of sacrifice, is certainly shown most clearly through George and Lennie's relationship; considering what patterns emerge from their conversations is a good place to start. For instance, when looking at the character of George, it is obvious that he is protective of Lennie and has sacrificed opportunities to do what he thinks will benefit Lennie, even amidst the dark backdrop of the Depression. So, when constructing the thesis for an essay on sacrifice, it might be formatted something like:

Through George's sacrifices of (example 1), (example 2), and (example 3), it is clear that sacrifice, although usually praised as a heroic quality, is ultimately shown in Of Mice and Men to be (original thought/ argument).

As far as quotations go, it is definitely worth examining George and Lennie's conversations, particularly at the beginning of the novella to get a sense of their bond. For example, Slim notes this at the beginning of chapter three: "I hardly never seen two guys travel together. You know how the hands are...Never seem to give a damn about nobody." Another section for quotes that might be helpful is the very end when George sacrifices Lennie's life to spare him a more painful death at the hands of Curley.

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