On Of Mice and Men: An introduction

Of_Mice_And_Men_PosterJohn Steinbeck wrote his classic novel, Of Mice and Men, in 1937. Highly influential and regularly referenced, prior to the next academic year it was also one of the standard texts in the majority of GCSE English courses.

Born in California in 1902, Steinbeck based much of his fiction in that region of America, including Of Mice and Men. As a teenager, he spent his summers working on ranches, where his experiences of rural California influenced him so much that the people within the agricultural communities of the region were regularly reflected in his work.

Using his writing to highlight the plight of these desperately poor agricultural Californian labourers, Steinbeck was keen to show how, despite the deprivations and challenges of their circumstances, such men and women fought to remain mentally triumphant. This was particularly the case with Of Mice and Men, which was set in the depression-era of 1930’s America.

The two lead characters in Of Mice and Men, a ranch worker called George, and his mentally disabled friend, the gentle and rather simple Lennie, share a dream. They fantasize about earning enough money to buy their own land one day. Although the economic conditions of the time made this dream impossible from the very beginning, the story uses this shared ambition as a point of hope for Lennie, George, and some of their co-workers to unite around. A dream that keeps them going through the toughest of times.

A dark story of everyday brutality, loneliness, friendship, and hopeless dreams, Steinbeck’s work reflects the daily struggle of so many of the American workers caught in the grip of the Great Depression. Of Mice and Men highlights the weaknesses, cruelty, desperation, and resilience of mankind.


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Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.

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