Use of structure in Of Mice and Men

The structure of Of Mice and Men is cyclical – there is a sense of things happening in a certain order and being repeated. This is reflected in the way that the book starts and ends in the same place - the brush by the Salinas River. This gives the reader the impression that the ending is inevitable and nothing can be done to stop it. The sense of repetition created through this element of the structure also creates a sense of hopelessness for the reader, reflecting the lack of choices that itinerant workers like George would have had at the time. The men’s lives are also repetitive and it is only the American dream that gives them any hope of changing this cycle, however Steinbeck shows at the end that even this dream is pointless.

Death is present throughout the novella, from the very beginning where Lennie is carrying a mouse that he has accidentally killed to the very end when he kills Curley’s wife. Lennie’s lack of awareness of his ability to cause harm is presented as being a problem straight away and this escalates: first he kills a mouse, then a puppy, then finally Curley’s wife. His inability to control himself when panicked is also revealed at different stages (George describes when Lennie grabbed a girl’s dress in Weed and then Lennie crushes Curley’s hand when attacked), adding to the sense that he will inevitably cause destruction.

The increasing violence in Of Mice and Men foreshadows the tragic events at the end. Life is not valued in the book; Lennie accidentally kills the creatures he pets and Candy’s dog is shot by Carlson when he is no longer useful. The title itself foreshadows the characters’ unhappiness at the end of the book, as it provides a warning that things will not work out for the characters as they hope.

How to analyse structure

  • Foreshadowing is used throughout the novel to suggest the tragic ending. From the title, to the death of Candy’s dog and Lennie killing animals, there are frequent suggestions that George and Lennie’s plan to buy their own farm and be happy will go wrong.
  • The novel’s structure is cyclical, suggesting that the characters’ fates are inevitable. This makes the story seem fatalistic.
  • Lennie’s dangerous behaviour escalates throughout the novel. George cannot seem to control him and Lennie cannot control himself, warning the reader that this will cause more serious harm.