Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men

Literary Terms


The plot of Of Mice and Men consists of several episodes, or separate incidents.  These episodes are connected so that the plot flows smoothly without breaks.  The novel breaks down into the following traditional five-part structure.

  • Exposition—an introduction to the main characters, settings, and situations of the plot.
  • Rising action—the events and complications that lead to an important and dramatic point in the plot.
  • Climax—the point of greatest interest and emotional involvement in the plot.
  • Falling action—the events that develop from the climax and lead to the conclusion.
  • Resolution or denouement—the final outcome that ties up any loose ends left in the story.


The world in Of Mice and Men is filled with simple, ordinary objects: bunk beds, magazines, liniment for a sore back.  Yet some of these objects, as familiar as they are, take on special significance in the novel and hold a deeper meaning.

A symbol is an object or action that hints at more than just its straightforward meaning.  For example, a dove is a type of bird.  But it can also be used to suggest the idea of peace.  By looking past a symbol’s surface, readers will better understand the characters and the author’s message.


A theme is a main point in a work of literature, the author’s message.  A theme goes beyond events of the plot to draw major conclusions—or at least raise important questions—about life.

Of Mice and Men has several themes.  All elements of the novel—the characters, the plot, the mood, the symbols—work together to express these themes.


Steinbeck introduces his two main characters in this chapter, creating a first impression of George’s and Lennie’s looks, personalities, beliefs, and dreams.

Sometimes authors use direct characterization to describe characters—that is, they will directly tell readers important information about a character.  For example, an author might write “Margo was an extremely generous person.”

However, in this novel Steinbeck prefers to use indirect characterization.  In other words, we learn about characters by interpreting clues that Steinbeck gives.


Even before he introduces his characters, Steinbeck paints a picture of the setting.  The setting provides an important background to events.  To fully understand how Steinbeck establishes this background, it’ s helpful to recognize three aspects of setting.

  • Physical location: geography, climate, types of buildings, etc.
  • Time: season and historic period
  • Atmosphere: social and cultural conditions, characters’ manner of life


Steinbeck provides hints about what will happen later in the story.  This technique of giving clues to prepare readers for later events is called foreshadowing.

Foreshadowing serves several purposes.  It can arouse the reader’s curiosity, piquing interest in details and creating an eagerness to continue reading.  It can also make later events seem more believable since the author has already hinted at the outcome.

A writer who uses foreshadowing doesn’t necessarily give away the story.  A reader must still interpret the clues and predict what will happen.


Bulletin board, boot, flame, web, interface, site, RAM, log on, lol, bff.  If you’re a computer user, you’ll recognize some of these expressions as examples of jargon, or special words used by a certain group or profession.  Others are slang, short-lived expressions of a particular group.  Some are simply informal language more common in conversation than in formal speech writing.

The ranch hands have their own jargon, slang, and informal words.  For example, Slim is referred to as a jerkline skinner, or a skilled mule driver.  By using such terms in descriptions and dialogue, Steinbeck adds realism to his book.


Conflict is an inescapable part of the ranch hands’ lives.  Just as the animals in the surrounding mountains must compete for food and survival, so the characters of the novel must fight with each other for what they want and need.

Conflict occurs in a story when a character confronts an opposing force.  There are five main types of conflict.

  • Character vs. character—a character or characters face a problem with one or more characters in the story
  • Character vs. self—a character faces a physical or emotional struggle
  • Character vs. society—one or more characters face a problem with a part of society (government, laws, traditions, etc.)
  • Characters vs. nature—one or more characters face a problem with a force of nature (storm, heat, cold, etc.)
  • Characters vs. fate—one or more characters face a problem with a force such as fate, God, or luck


For the most part, Of Mice and Men is told in simple, straightforward language.  Yet occasionally Steinbeck includes colorful similes and metaphors.

A simile is a direct comparison using the words “like” or “as”.  “The hail pounded on the roof like hundred of hammers” is an example of a simile.

A metaphor implies a comparison without using the words “like” or “as”.  “A banner of color announced the end of the rain” is an example of a metaphor.  The implied comparison is between a rainbow and a colorful banner.

Steinbeck uses figurative language to add spice to the narration and to give his words an extra level of meaning by making revealing comparisons.


Like a coin, many of Steinbeck’s characters are round characters with more than one “face”.

Anyone who has read a fairy tale is familiar with flat characters.  The wicked witch, the brave prince, and the good godmother are all one-dimensional characters.  They always act the same way, never changing or growing.

Most novelists prefer to create round characters.  These characters have different sides, conflicting emotions, and emotional depth.  With their realistic dimensions, these characters engage a reader’s belief, interest, and even sympathy.


Of Mice and Men was a play before Steinbeck turned it into a novel.  Yet, unlike a play, the book doesn’t rely only on dialogue to tell the story.  Often when starting action or introducing a character.  Steinbeck uses imagery.  An image is a description that appeals to the senses of sight, sound, touch, taste, or smell.

Sensory descriptions can do more than just give readers a mental picture.  Such descriptions can also create a mood or feeling for readers.  If an author writes “The soft-green glider sifted through the air like a loose leaf”, a dreamy or soothing feeling might be created for readers.


In Chapter 1, Lennie dips his fingers into a pool and marvels at the ripples that form.  Like those ripples, events in the novel have a circular “shape”.

Incidents, images, or ideas which appear repeatedly in a literary work are known as motifs.  The use of motifs helps to unite a story and reinforce the author’s message.  In the final chapters, Steinbeck underlines the meaning of his novel by bringing full circle many motifs.


Steinbeck doesn’t choose to directly explore the thoughts of his characters.  Instead, like a dramatist, he lets the actions of his characters and, perhaps more importantly, their dialogue tell his story.

Dialogue serves a number of important purposes, including the following:

  • It advances the plot by revealing information.
  • It develops character by revealing a person’s status, traits, views, and interests.
  • It helps create the setting through what the character says and how he or she says it (dialect, colloquialism, jargon).
  • It creates verisimilitude, or an impression of reality.
  • It communicates a moral, theme, or message.


The point of view of a literary work is the vantage point from which the story is told—the eyes through which the reader is made to see.  Autobiographies, for example, are normally told in the first person.  Or a story may be told by a character or a narrator who knows only part of it and can reveal only that part of it to us.

Steinbeck uses the omniscient, or all-seeing, point of view in the novel.


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