AQA GCSE English Literature - Of Mice and Men Context (second bullet point in exam)

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Context America
Racism within the USA
In 1930s, white people in the US were still regarded as superior to black people.
o Steinbeck's portrayal of Crooks gives an insight into this segregation: "Cause I'm
black. They play cards in there, but I can't play because I'm black."
Segregation - Schools, public places, transportation such as trains or buses
nearly always had separate facilities for the whites and blacks
Crooks as a black man is depicted as `separate' from the white men on the
ranch: "I ain't wanted in the bunkhouse". He is isolated and almost seems to
accept that things are not going to change, having become aloof and
reserved.
Discrimination ­ Blacks were discriminated against in almost all walks of life by the white
Americans, for the white population racism was acceptable and discrimination was a way of
life, highlighted by others referring to him as `nigger' or `Crooks' but he is never known as
his real name which reinforces Crooks' lack of identity.
o Curley's Wife comments: "Well, you keep your place then, nigger. I could get
you strung up on a tree so easy it ain't even funny."
It is interesting that Steinbeck uses Curley's Wife to make the racism
comment because in 1930s America white women were inferior to white
men (as the relationship between Curley and his wife shows) but black
people are seen of a lower social class, lower in the hierarchy than white
women.
Crooks recognises this threat and it is clear that over time violence and
prejudice has deadened his personality and his drive to retaliate "There was
no personality, no ego ­ nothing to arouse either like or dislike". It is as if
Crooks has accepted the situation. The fact that Steinbeck presents Crooks
as a black `stinking' cripple further reinforces the image of weakness and
vulnerability: "This is just a nigger talkin', an' a busted-back nigger. So it don't
mean nothing". He is depicted not only as broken physically but mentally,
powerless to fight back and defenceless against society's attitudes.
The American Dream
What is clear within Of Mice and Men is that the oppressed and down trodden sectors of society
hanker after the `American Dream'.
Lennie and George ­ "[George] we're gonna have a little house and a couple of acres an' a
cow and some pigs and...[Lennie] An' live off the fatta the lan".

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The American Dream represents the opportunity for prosperity and success, gained
through hard work and relentless effort, for all irrespective of class, gender, age or
colour.
Crooks-Candy-George-Lennie
Racism, Migrant workers
Migrant Workers
The economy following the Great Depression and the resultant high unemployment
together with the Dust Bowl of the 1930s resulted in extreme poverty and workers
travelling across the US in hope of finding work.…read more

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Lennie's uncomplicated mind seems unable to function or look after himself without
the help of George. To Lennie, George is a leading figure which he looks up to and
he relies upon George to look after him. George acts as the paternal figure in the
relationship and Lennie just as a child obeys George unconditionally.…read more

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It is clear that Curley's Wife has never confided in anyone except
Lennie and this highlights Curley's wife isolation and her desperation
for a friend or someone to talk to. Also, the fact that Curley's Wife can
only make friends with Lennie, a chidlike and simple minded character
also indicates just how isolated she is on the ranch.
Candy
The first example found in the book is the treatment of people of old age and disability.…read more

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Also, the fact that Curley's Wife can
only make friends with Lennie, a childlike and simple minded character
also indicates just how isolated she is on the ranch.
o Steinbeck presents Curley's Wife as "Curley's Wife" which highlights the sexual
inequality of the 1930s. Curley's Wife is not treated as an individual in her own right,
but is seen by various characters as a symbol of other things: Curley's Wife, a
temptress, a chattel, a sex object, or a piece of "jailbait".…read more

Comments

Paul Dutton

A really useful set of notes placing the novel in context.  Good for higher tier students.

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