Evidence and explanation of the language used

Colloquial language

How is it used?

The men on the ranch speak colloquially, for example when Carlson talks to Slim about Candy’s dog: Ever’ time he comes into the bunk house I can smell him for two, three days. Why’n’t you get Candy to shoot his old dog and give him one of the pups to raise up?

Why is it used?

This style of speaking represents the way that men like this would really have spoken, so Steinbeck is presenting the characters in a realistic way.

What is its effect?

Carlson is very direct and unsentimental in the way that he speaks. The language he uses is colloquial and informal, reflecting the relaxed way in which the men talk to each other. This quotation in particular also demonstrates the lack of emotion Carlson feels for the dog, even though Candy has strong feelings for his pet. Steinbeck demonstrates the reality of life for itinerant workers during the Great Depression.

Animal imagery

How is it used?

Lennie in particular is described using similes and metaphors linked to animals, for example during the fight with Curley: Lennie covered his face with his huge paws and bleated with terror.

Why is it used?

Lennie’s mental disability makes him unable to understand situations, the way that others behave and what they say. His size and lack of intelligence are often emphasised through the comparisons made between him and animals.

What is its effect?

Lennie is made more sympathetic at times when linked to animals, as these descriptions suggest his lack of understanding and inability to see the consequences of his behaviour. So when he does bad things, it is difficult to blame him for these. Steinbeck also focuses on Lennie’s size through comparing him to animals such as bears. His relationship with George is at times presented as master and pet, showing how much Lennie needs George for guidance and to survive.

Direct style

How is it used?

When narrating most of the events of the book, Steinbeck uses a forthright style and is sparse with description, focusing on using dialogue to progress the plot: Slim looked through George and beyond him. “Ain't many guys travel around together,” he mused. “I don't know why. Maybe ever'body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.

Why is it used?

Steinbeck reflects the way that the men speak through his straightforward narration of events, suggesting the way in which they have little time for emotion and for making meaningful connections with each other.

What is its effect?

In this quotation, Steinbeck uses very few words to suggest a lot about Slim’s character and about the way the men on the ranch live. Slim is shown to be thoughtful and reflective just through the brief description of how he looks at George. The lack of relationships in itinerant workers’ lives is demonstrated through Slim’s short statements, without the need for any additional narration from Steinbeck.

Descriptive style for the natural world

How is it used?

When focused on the natural setting of the river at the beginning and end of the book, Steinbeck is more descriptive in style: Already the sun had left the valley to go climbing up the slopes of the Gabilan Mountains, and the hilltops were rosy in the sun. But by the pool among the mottled sycamores, a pleasant shade had fallen.

Why is it used?

Unlike his narration during most of the book, when describing the natural world Steinbeck is more expressive, showing the beauty of the untouched setting. George and Lennie are much more at peace in this environment.

What is its effect?

Through his descriptions of nature, Steinbeck gives the impression that this environment provides a sanctuary for George and Lennie away from the harsh world of people. It is important that this is where they return at the end of the book, when George does what he can to protect Lennie from the violence of the other men. There is also an interpretation of Steinbeck’s descriptions of nature that he is evoking the Garden of Eden, because the peaceful setting by the river seems perfect and unaffected by humans. George and Lennie’s feeling of tranquillity at the start of the book cannot continue, just as Adam and Eve could not continue in the Garden of Eden.

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