Discussion Topic

John Steinbeck's intentions, attitude, inspiration, intended audience, and messages in writing "Of Mice and Men"

Summary:

John Steinbeck's intentions in writing Of Mice and Men were to highlight the struggles of the working class during the Great Depression. His attitude was one of empathy and realism. Inspired by his own experiences and observations, he aimed to reach a broad audience, conveying messages about friendship, dreams, and the harsh realities of life for itinerant workers.

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What was John Steinbeck's attitude towards "Of Mice and Men"?

John Steinbeck grew up in the Salinas Valley and knew the setting and the kind of men he was writing about. However, Of Mice and Men was an early effort and Steinbeck was not a prominent writer at the time. He would have been described as a "regional writer," and his bucolic subject matter characterized him as such. California had a small population and was far distant from the centers of wealth and power in the East. He was seriously planning to turn Of Mice and Men into a stage play, as is described in the eNotes Study Guide Introduction. This explains why his novella is so short and why there is so much dialogue. The play was probably more important to Steinbeck than the book, because the play, if successful, would reach the important people in New York City and on the East Coast. It would also make more money than a short novel by an unknown writer.

Because of its heavy reliance on dialogue, the book was easy to adapt to a stage play. The settings in the book are minimalistic. The main sets are a bunkhouse and a barn. The setting by the riverbank is beautifully described, but it could be represented on a stage by just a couple of bed rolls and a "campfire" with a red lightbulb under a few sticks. It is noteworthy that there are virtually no outdoor scenes in the book except for the opening and closing scene at the riverbank. Big crews of men work outdoors on the vast California fields with big teams of horses, but none of this is described in the book because it would not be possible to show it on a stage. Even when the men pitch horseshoes, all that is described is the occasional clang when a horseshoe hits the metal post.

It seems likely that Steinbeck decided to make one of his principal characters feeble-minded because that would enable him to have George explain everything to Lennie that the author wished to have explained to the reader and to the theater audience. Lennie not only has trouble understanding but also has trouble remembering, so George can repeat important expository information, such as where they are going, where they are coming from, how Lennie is supposed to behave, and where Lennie is supposed to meet George if he gets in trouble and has to run away (as he did in Weed). Steinbeck had to invent some rather implausible business with Aunt Clara to explain why George is taking so much trouble to serve as Lennie's guardian.

Steinbeck's heavy reliance on dialogue, especially between George and Lennie, allows him to have George, with Lennie's occasional interjections, spell out their so-called "American dream" of owning a little piece of land. This dream is the motivation that drives the story. Otherwise there would be very little in the way of a plot. We empathize with George and Lennie because of their dream, and we share in their tragedy because the mishap in the barn makes fulfillment of the dream impossible.

Steinbeck's strength as an author is based heavily on his sympathy for the underprivileged and politically impotent. He writes with strong feeling and communicates his feeling to the reader.

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What was John Steinbeck's attitude towards "Of Mice and Men"?

Steinbeck chose to write about the little people of the world because of his philosophy and liberal political beliefs. He wanted to show that even the humblest men are complex creatures with hopes, dreams, desires, problems, and personal relationships. This is characteristic of all of his early writings. He suggests that many of his characters have talents that would offer them better lives if only they had education and opportunities. He feels that the social system is unjust because it denies such opportunities to a large portion of the population. In his later novel The Grapes of Wrath he makes it clear that he believes the government should do more to offer help and protection to the underprivileged and hints that the voters should see to it that their representatives take affirmative action.

It should be noted that America's entrance into World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December of 1941 brought about great changes because of the enormous demand for soldiers and sailors, as well as the need for workers in ship building, munitions manufacturing, aircraft production, and many other areas of the great war effort. Furthermore, there was an increasing mechanization of agriculture. The teams of horses described in Of Mice and Men no longer exist, because one powerful tractor can pull more than a hundred horses. There is also less demand for human labor in many aspects of agricultural production because of the invention of all kinds of specialized machinery.

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What was Steinbeck's intention when writing Of Mice and Men?

Steinbeck was deeply affected by the suffering of the poor during the Great Depression of the 1930s. One of his literary themes became understanding and sympathy for those Americans who live on the edge of society, never able to overcome social and economic barriers to achieve their dreams. The plight of migrant workers was portrayed by Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath, as well as in Of Mice and Men. In both these works, Steinbeck examined the dreams of "common people" and presented an economic system in America that kept them from succeeding, despite their best efforts. George and Lennie work hard, but they never get ahead. Their dream always remains just out of their reach, for one reason or another. They are not alone in their failure. Other farm hands, such as Crooks and Candy, share their fate.

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What message did Steinbeck aim to convey to the readers of Of Mice and Men?

I believe Steinbeck wanted the reader to understand that America in the 1930s was a harsh, difficult place to survive and that the "American Dream" was essentially impossible to achieve. Throughout the novella, each character struggles to survive in the lonely, unpredictable environment and dreams of a better life. George and Lennie's dream of one day owning their own home together on a plot of land is shattered after Lennie accidentally kills Curley's wife. Steinbeck illustrates each character's struggles by depicting their rough lives on the ranch. In the dire economic times, it was difficult for men to make a steady living and save enough money to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Like many Americans living during that time period, George's dream is impossible to achieve. Tragically, the men on the ranch are forced to work their entire lives. After reading the novella, the reader understands the difficulties of living out West in the 1930s and realizes the "American Dream" was impossible for the common man to attain.

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Who was the intended audience for John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, and what points was he trying to convey?

Of Mice and Men was written by Steinbeck for a wide readership.  Steinbeck's style (use of language) is plain and straightforward so that it can be ready by young adults (teens) and adults alike.  Since it is a novella (a long story or a short novel), Steinbeck also wanted it to be read quickly but thoughtfully.

Obviously, though, it was written first and foremost for Americans in the caught in the throes of the Great Depression, namely the working class whom he championed.  Steinbeck wanted to improve working conditions for the underpriveledged.  The novella has since continued to be read by students in 9th and 10th grade as part of an American literature curriculum investigating the American dream.

Of Mice and Men would seem to be a novella directed primarily at males, since it only has one female character (who is not even named), Curley's wife.  Really, though, the novella is directed against the male-dominated agrarian culture, using it as a metaphor for how capitalism can be used as a top-down power structure in which the male bourgeoisie class (Curley) abuse their power over the proletariat workers (Lenny), blacks (Crooks), and women (Curley's wife)--a kind of Social Darwinism ("survival of the fittest").

Still others can read the novel for its commentary on relationships between men and women and workers and bosses, the validity of the American dream, and even the justification for mercy killing.

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What inspired John Steinbeck to write Of Mice and Men?

John Steinbeck was very much on the left of the political spectrum. As such, he instinctively sided with the underdog, with the downtrodden and dispossessed. He was thus acutely aware of the many economic injustices that disfigured—and continue to disfigure—American society. He was also someone with considerable knowledge of the plight of itinerant workers in his native Salinas Valley.

In writing Of Mice and Men, therefore, Steinbeck sought to combine a general critique of poverty and injustice in America with a specific portrayal of the plight of itinerant farm workers in the Salinas Valley. In fact, in writing the book, he used those workers and their experiences to stand for the condition of the poor in Great Depression America as a whole.

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What inspired John Steinbeck to write Of Mice and Men?

John Steinbeck once wrote to a friend, "I think I would like to write the story of this whole valley,of all the little towns and all the farms and the ranches in the wilder hills. I can see how I would like to do it so that it would be the valley of the world.”  The valley that he is referencing is the Salinas Valley in California, where he grew up and lived in at times in his adult life. Though Steinbeck came from a relatively well-off family, he had much familiarity with the experiences of the migrant workers in the region since he grew up there. As an adult, he traveled through the small valleys to gain first hand experience from the workers. It doesn't appear that there was one specific event that led to Of Mice and Men, but Steinbeck was interested in the plight of the migrant worker, and, really, human suffering in general. This novella was an experimental form to try to explore and comment on both of these issues.

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What inspired John Steinbeck to write Of Mice and Men?

John Steinbeck was inspired to write Of Mice and Men, which was intended as a story for both stage and book form, by his childhood observations of the poor migrant workers scratching out a meager living traveling from one ranch or farm to another.  Born and raised in Salinas, California, the setting for much of his literature, that region’s agricultural sector was heavily dependent upon such inexpensive labor, and the economic conditions resulting from both the Great Depression and the destruction of the Oklahoma agricultural sector – the so-called Dust Bowl.  Steinbeck himself worked on the ranches that populated that area of California and was introduced to many of the people whose lives and experiences would be represented in novels like Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath and, even, East of Eden.

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What inspired John Steinbeck to write Of Mice and Men?

Steinbeck was well educated and came from an affluent family. He had a burning ambition to write and he travelled through California working on ranches as George and Lennie did. Steinbeck was largely cataloguing the lifestyle of the people living the itinerant lifestyle that the ranchers had, whilst demonstrating the loneliness and isolation of such an existence. He was aware of the huge social and economic difficulties that these people faced, and also how their way of life was being eroded by the increase in mechanisation of farm work.

The novel is set in Salinas, California which is where Steinbeck was from. Using this setting was a regular feature in his writing and gave his novels a realistic feel.

Steinbeck was therefore inspired by his own experiences and through the stories of real people that he met. The characters in the novel are probably amalgamations of various people he encountered.

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What inspired John Steinbeck to write Of Mice and Men?

The primary focus was explored above.  I think that in writing what he knew from his own experiences, Steinbeck also helped to bring to light the plight of a group of individuals who were largely ignored and discarded as a result of the Great Depression.  The plight of migrant workers was one that was treated with apathy and neglect.  Their rootless existence, transient state of being, and victims to capitalism at its very worst was a narrative that went undetected until Steinbeck offered his views on it through his works.  In articulating that which was silent, Steinbeck helped to explore and develop a larger vision of what it meant to be American.

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What inspired John Steinbeck to write Of Mice and Men?

The simple answer is that Steinbeck was a writer, and he wrote what he knew, which was the 1930s California that he lived in.  He wasn't too excited about this novella, as he thought it wasn't his best work.  He would later say how continually surprised he was that the book sold so well, and received the acclaim that it did.

I think in the context of these things, we can get in trouble by trying to guess too much about his or any writer's motivations.  That being said, I would argue that Steinbeck certainly wanted people to know the deplorable conditions of migrants and others during the Great Depression.  The fact he wrote both Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath on that subject I think give us a clue as to what was on his mind.  Of Mice and Men specifically gives the reader an insight to the most vulnerable in society at that time: blacks, women, the mentally impaired, the poor, the elderly and migrant workers.

To me, that's what makes it such high art.  He shows us all of these people, distinctly and specifically, in the span of 108 pages.

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