Of Mice and Men
How are animals and animal imagery used in Of Mice and Men?
Steinbeck uses a lot of animal imagery and symbolism in his novel. In particular, the character and physical strength of Lennie is often portrayed through the use of animal imagery. Have a look at these quotes and think about how you could use them in an essay.
• “Slowly, like a terrier who doesn’t want to bring a ball to its master, Lennie approached, drew back, approached again.”
This comes early on in the novel. What does it immediately tell us about George and Lennie’s relationship?
• “Lennie covered his face with huge paws and bleated with terror.”
Steinbeck uses the imagery of two different animals here. What effect does it have on the reader?
• “Lennie dabbled his big paw in the water and wiggled his fingers so the water arose in little splashes; rings widened across the pool on the other side and came back again. Lennie watched them go. ‘Look, George. Look what I done.’”
• “(Lennie)…walked heavily, dragging his feet a little, way a bear drags his paws. His arms did not swing at his sides, but hung loosely.”
What do these quotes tell us about Lennie? Why has Steinbeck chosen bear imagery in particular?
• “His huge companion dropped his blankets and flung himself down and drank from the surface of the green pool; drank with long gulps, snorting into the water like a horse. The small man stepped nervously beside him.”
Steinbeck uses yet another animal to convey Lennie.
• “Suddenly Lennie appeared out of the brush, and he came as silently as a creeping bear moves.”
How does this scene compare with the one at the beginning of the book? Both use bear imagery but how do they differ?
• Crook predicts Lennie’s fate without George:
“They’ll tie ya up with a collar, like a dog.”
• After Curley’s ‘fight’ with Lennie:
“The next minute, Curley was flopping like a fish on a line…”
• (Lennie) “I wisht to get the rabbits soon” What do the rabbits symbolise for Lennie?
• On Curley’s wife:
“… she’s a rat trap if I ever seen one.”
Why do you think Steinbeck uses the word ‘rat’ instead of ‘man’ here?
• What does the mouse symbolise at the beginning of the novel? Is it a warning of things to come?
• Why did Steinbeck choose ‘Of Mice and Men’ as the title for the novel?
The title of the novel is taken from Robert Burns’ poem, “To a Mouse, On Turning Her Up in Her Nest with a Plow,” In the poem, Burns writes that, “The best laid schemes o’ mice and men Gang aft a-gley (often go astray),”