Descriptive Style - 1
This style is descriptive and almost poetic in its intensity
Steinbeck tends to start a section in this style, often making heavy use of natural description, ora detailed description of the setting in which the action will take place.
The description of the harness room in which Crooks lives is a good example.
Only once does that style break in unexpectedly rather than coming at the start of the end of a section: when Steinbeck halts the action to deliver what can seem a funeral eulogy (speech) for Curley's wife:- "The Sun streaks were high on the wall by now"
Descriptive Style - 2
The style owes its success to Steinbeck's eye for minute observation of nature and his gift for unusual metaphors and similes.
Many of these are not unusual.
Lennie is compared twice to a bear, once at the start of the novel and once at the end - this is a simple image.
Bears are big, very strong and, in comparison to humans, not very clever, which are obvious links to Lennie.
Descriptive Style - 3
Some of Steinbeck's imagery is more unusual.
In one example, he describes the head of a water-snake as being a 'periscope'.
At first reading this simile might seem totally out of place. A periscope is a man-made object of steel and glass, part of a machine designed for war and found at sea rather than in the confines of a small pool in a river. Yet the image does work because:
- It is startling and unexpected. It focuses your attention on what is being described.
- Visually the water snake and the periscope are similar. Both are upright and ploughing through the water.
- The snake's etes are in its head, just as the periscope provides eyes for the submarine
- A submarine is a machine of death, but so perhaps is the snake, hunting for its prey in the shadows
Descriptive Style - 4
Steinbeck's descriptive style can also be very powerful when he uses straightforward language.
For example, George has to stop Lennie from drinking from a pool at the start of the novel. The water is 'scrummy'.
This is a simple, factual description of the water.
As well as describing the water, the description manages to tell us how very little common sense Lennie has.
Also, by hinting at dirt and corruption, it might even prepare us for a dark ending to the novel.
Steinbeck's style is also very economical. Rather than pouring hundreds of descriptive words into a paragraph, he describes a few bare essentials to give a flavour of the scene.
Descriptive Style - 5
Use of light
Steinbeck loves to use light in his descriptive passages. The light flaming on the Gabilan Mountains is a recurrent image. Steinbeck is fascinated by sunlight. He describes a bar of it shining into the bunk house:
"the sun threw a bright dust-laden bar through one of the side windows, and in and out of the beam flies shot like rushing stars"
Later Curley's wide enters the bunk house and 'the rectangle of sunshine in the doorway was cut off' - the light being used as a symbol for the way that her stupidity is going to cut short her own life and Lennie's, and destroy George and Lennie's dream.
Descriptive Style - 6
Sound and Vision
Steinbeck also uses sound in his descriptions, particularly the background sounds that add so much to our imagination of the colour and vision of a scene. One example is 'thuds and occasional clangs of a horseshoe game' in the yard; another is the sounds heard by George as he prepares to kill Lennie:
"the leaves rustled... And the shouts of men sounded again, this time much closer than before."
As the men get nearer, the shouts grow louder and the sense of tension is increased. The accuracy of Steinbeck's observation helps you to believe that you are an eyewitness to the events described.
Dialogue - 1
The second style or way of writing occupies most of the novel.
It is down-to-earth, relies on dialogue and is colloquial (formed from everyday speech).
Steinbeck manages to blend these two styles together with almost complete fluency.
This blending is one of the reason why Of Mice and Men is such a remarkable novel.
Dialogue - 2
The language of Steinbeck's characters is written down in a way that allows you almost to hear the characters speaking.
Steinbeck spells words so as to reflect how they sound in the mouths of ordinary people (this is called 'phonetic spelling'), not how they appear in the dictionary.
People leave the beginning and ending off words - Steinbeck writes 'an'' for 'and', 'jus'' for 'just', 'gonna', for 'going to' - and do not speak 'correct' English, as when Lennie sayd 'I shouldn't of done that' instead of 'I shouldn't have done that.'
Steinbeck uses slang, as when the ranch hands go to the local brothel for a 'flop'.
"As happens sometimes, a moment settled and hovered and remained for much more than a moment. And sound stopped and movement stopped for much, much more then a moment"
This passage can be described as 'poetic', meaning it is very intense and concentrated. Its real importance is that it is so unusual.
It is as if Steinbeck steps out of the shadows where he has been hiding all through the novel and talks directly to the reader.
It either works well, emphasising the importance of Curley's wide and her death, or is too obvious, with Steinbeck trying too hard to make something seem important that we already know is important.
Steinbeck's Language of Speech
Be careful to distinguish between slang and phonetic spelling. Slang is words or phrases that are in common usage but which may have only temporary existence.
Slang dates quite rapidly.
For example, it was very popular in the 1960s to use the word 'fab' (short for 'fabulous').
Using that slang now might seem unusual or out of place.
We do not laugh at characters who use slang in Of Mice and Men because we recognise that this is how people of that time spoke.
Don't confuse slang words and phrases with words and phrases that Steinbeck has spelt to imitate the way people actually said them, as in 'Jes' for 'just'.
Phonetic spelling (spelling a word or phrase as it sounds) is completely different.