Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
The following answer was written under exam conditions in response to Questions on The Writer’s Voice, part of the English Language GCSE and released as an example of top band work on this paper. The two parts are presented here with some comment.
Read from ‘A tall man stood in the doorway.’ to ‘Maybe ever’body in the whole dam world is scared of each another.’
Use the extract to answer the question.
- Explore how the language of the extract influences your view of Slim. You must include examples of language features in your answer.
- Slim is one of the male characters in the novel. Explore how the writer presents another male character in one other part of the novel. You must use examples of the language the writer uses to support your ideas.
(a) The language of the extract portrays Slim to be of very high authority on the ranch. As he moved into the room, his manner is described as ‘with a majesty only achieved by royalty,’ this shows that Slim wants to be an influence on others in the ranch, he wants people to think highly of him when they look at him. His authority is also obvious when he is described as ‘the prince of the ranch’ implying that he is the type of person who gets what he wants and doesn’t have to ask twice.
Slim’s high status is also demonstrated when Steinbeck says, ‘There was a gravity in his manner and a quiet so profound that all talk topped when he spoke.’ This suggests that the other men on the ranch value his opinion; they know that he is a wise, clever man. This can also be implied when the author says ‘his world was taken on any subject be it politics of love.
Slim’s appearance is intricate and refined. His face is described as ‘ageless’ suggesting that he could be a rather mysterious character, moreover, when his voice is said to have ‘overtones of ‘understanding beyond thought,’ this could show how sensitive he is, making him seem kind and approachable. This description of his hands also give the impression that he is a rather sensitive character by saying they are ‘as delicate in their action as those of a temple dancer,’ however, the words ‘large and lean’ prevent him from seeming feminine.
When Slim speaks to George, he is welcoming of him and Lennie. It is clear that he wants them to feel at home when he says, ‘Hope you get on my team,’ with a ‘gentle’ voice implying that he would love a fresh couple of guys around.
His impression of being kind and understanding is continued when George compliments Lennie and Slim looks ‘approvingly’ at George showing that Slim admires someone who doesn’t try so hard to seem burley and emotionless.
(b) When presenting the character of Crooks, Steinbeck’s first description of him is ‘the negro stable buck.’ This simple sentence immediately shows the reading that Crooks is of very low status on the ranch because ‘negro’ people were discriminated against and segregated during the 1930s, when the novel was set.
Crooks’ character is introduced in his room. His bunk has been made separate from the main bunkhouse due to his race. The ‘little room’ is situated in a ‘little shed,’ the use of the word ‘little’ implies Crooks’ lower status. The shed that he lives in is intact the harness room, which was originally not meant for human habitation. This demonstrates that Crooks is being treated like an animal.
The surroundings in Crooks’ room introduce Crooks’ character more than Crooks himself does. The so-called ‘bunk’ is actually a ‘long box filled with straw,’ which could also add to the impression that Crooks is seen as an animal rather than a human.
When describing Crooks’ various belongings scattered around the room, Steinbeck uses the word ‘spit’ twice to describe the things around him. The use of the word, although it was used to describe a collar and a leather covering, represents how Crooks is split from everyone else in the ranch, bringing out his situation almost in a subliminal way. When the author says ‘Crooks could leave his things about’ it suggests that, due to being a ‘negro,’ nobody wants to go near his possessions, no matter how valuable they were.
The fact that Crooks owns ‘several pairs of shoes’ implies that he takes some pride in his appearance, for most men o the ranch only have one pair. Also included in his belongings are various books; the fact that he is able to read books represents that he is attempting to prove a point - his forefathers would have been slaves and would never have learnt to read. The fact hat Crooks has taught himself to read shows that he wants others to know that they do not have the right to discriminate against him due to intelligence. Furthermore, a ‘mauled’ copy of the california civil code is found among his books. The fact that it is ‘mauled’ shows that it has been worn down from being read over and over. This could also contribute to him wanting to prove a point, if someone tries to interrogate him, he can refer back to it, therefore he is able to stand up for himself.
This response has a number of virtues that would have gained credit with the examiner. Firstly, it does exactly what is asked: it looks closely at two passages, offering an appreciation of both characters, with detailed support.
To my mind, Section A is better than B. There may be several explanations for this. Firstly, the candidate is fresher at the start of the answer. A also presents them with an aptly chosen passage. This job has been done by the examiners, removing the pressure on candidates. For B, the candidate must make a wise, independent choice. Furthermore, B was written second, possibly when the candidate was running out of time.
Whatever the reason, the repetition and slightly weaker quality of B hasn’t much diminished the answer. It just reminds us that, even within good answers written under exam pressure, there is likely to be some unevenness. This is might be significant enough to move the answer within a band, but may not shift the result overall.
So, what are some of the special qualities of this work?
In the first instance, there is an ability to select apt quotation from the text. Secondly, this candidate is able to confidently discuss the way the writer has used language to achieve his effects. Where the candidate really scores is his/her ability to establish a sophisticated understanding of meaning. This is particularly apparent in the third full paragraph where the candidate not only shows a close appreciation of the character, but is prepared to weigh alternatives. Take the ability to balance the discussion of Slim’s hands. Whilst the unusual comparison of them with those of a ‘temple dancer’ might be regarded as feminine trait, this candidate is able to able to hit at the paradox in Slim’s character. By qualifying the discussion with the introduction of the words ‘large and lean,’ the candidate shows us that he/she has real insight. Slim is strong, yet perceptive. This is how he is able to understand the special nature of the relationship between George and Lennie. This candidate has a strong sense of the ‘mystical’ nature of Slim’s character and their illustration of Steinbeck’s adumbration of it clearly places them in the top band.
Another admirable quality on display here is that candidates lucidity, their ability to present a clear line of argument. They do this with short sentences. Quotations are embedded and always discussed. The candidate also seems to have a vocabulary sufficient to discuss the material at hand. They are not short of the right words.