The following analytical paper topics are designed to test your understanding of this novel as a whole and to analyze important themes and literary devices. Following each question is a sample outline to help you get started.
Loneliness is a dominant theme in Of Mice and Men. Most of the characters are lonely and searching for someone who can serve as a companion or just as an audience. Discuss the examples of character loneliness, the efforts of the characters in search of companionship, and their varying degrees of success.
I. Thesis statement: In his novel Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck depicts the essential loneliness of California ranch life in the 1930s. He illustrates how people are driven to find companionship.
II. Absence of character names
A. The Boss
B. Curley’s wife
III. George and Lennie
A. Consider each other family
B. Lennie described as a kind of pet
C. George’s philosophy about workers who travel alone
D. The Godlike Slim as George’s audience
A. Candy’s attachment to his dog
B. The death of his dog
C. His request to join George and Lennie
D. His need to share his thoughts with Lennie
A. Isolated by his skin color
B. His eagerness for company
C. His desire to share the dream of the farm
VI. Curley’s wife
A. Flirting with the workers
B. Talking to Crooks, Candy, and Lennie in the barn
C. Persuading Lennie to listen to her
VII. The hope and power when people have companions
A. George and Lennie
VIII. The misery of each when companionship is removed
The novel Of Mice and Men is written using the same structure as a drama, and meets many of the criteria for a tragedy. Examine the novel as a play. What conventions of drama does it already have? Does it fit the definition of a tragedy?
I. Thesis statement: Steinbeck designed his novel Of Mice and Men as a drama, more specifically, a tragedy.
II. The novel can be divided into three acts of two chapters (scenes)
A. First act introduces characters and background
B. Second act develops conflicts
C. Third act brings resolution
III. Settings are simple for staging
IV. Most of the novel can be transferred into either dialogue or stage directions
A. Each chapter opens with extensive detail to setting
B. Characters are described primarily in physical terms
V. The novel fits the definition of tragedy
A. The protagonist is an extraordinary person who meets with misery
B. The story celebrates courage in the face of defeat
C. The plot ends in an unhappy catastrophe that could not be avoided
There are many realistic and naturalistic details in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.
Discuss how Steinbeck is sympathetic and dispassionate about life through the presentation of realism and naturalism.
I. Thesis Statement: Steinbeck displays a sympathetic and a dispassionate attitude toward man’s and nature’s condition through the use of realistic and naturalistic details.
II. Realism—things as they are
A. Setting of chapter one
B. Description of the bunk house
C. Dialect and slang of the characters
D. Dress and habits of the characters
E. Death as a natural part of life
III. Naturalism—fate at work
A. Animal imagery to describe people
2. Curley’s wife
B. Lower class characters
C. Place names
1. Light and dark
2. Dead mouse and pup
3. Lennie’s desire to leave the ranch
4. Candy’s crippled dog
5. Solitaire card game
E. Symbolism in the last chapter
1. Heron and snake
2. Gust of wind
3. Slim’s comment
The story of George and Lennie lends itself to issues found in the question: Am I my brother’s keeper? Does man have an obligation to take care of his fellow man, and what is the price that must be paid if the answer is “yes” or if the answer is “no”?
I. Thesis Statement: Steinbeck shows that there is a great price to be paid for not being sensitive to the needs of others as well as for taking care of others.
II. The vulnerable ones
III. The heartless ones
A. The boss
C. Curley’s wife
IV. The insensitive one—Carlson
V. The sensitive ones
The American Dream is for every man to have a place of his own, to work and earn a position of respect, to become whatever his will and determination and hard work can make him. In Of Mice and Men the land becomes a talisman, a hope of better things. Discuss the American Dream as presented in the novel.
I. Thesis Statement: For the characters in this novel, the American Dream remains an unfulfilled dream.
II. The dream
A. Owning a home
B. Enjoying freedom to choose
C. Living off the fat of the land
D. Not having to work so hard
E. Having security in old age or sickness
III. The dream’s unrealistic aspects
A. Too good to be true
B. A pipe dream for bindle stiffs
C. Lack of money
IV. George and Lennie’s attitude toward the dream
A. Was a comfort in time of trouble
B. Did not really believe in the dream
V. Crooks’s attitude toward the dream
A. His belief
B. His disappointment
VI. Candy’s attitude toward the dream
A. His belief
B. His money
C. His disappointment at the end
Download "Short Writing Prompts" as a Word file (60KB)
Language Arts, History
Type of Activity
Small Group, Individual, Ongoing, Sharing Work, Brief Research, Writing
- Students will have ongoing practice writing short papers (150-200 words, in different styles) on a variety of Of Mice and Men topics.
- Students will learn to share their writing with others.
- Students will gain a deeper understanding of each section of Of Mice and Men.
Even though the Of Mice and Men unit may culminate with a major scholarly paper, short writing prompts (150-200 words) should be given throughout the unit. The prompts can be both broad and specific. Students should be made to feel comfortable with these prompts, even though (time permitting) some will read them out loud. The student audience will be encouraged to respond and take notes.
NOTE TO TEACHERS: Any of the writing topics in this section can be expanded into full-length essays (word length and completion time at the discretion of teachers). These short writing prompts can also be used as discussion topics , journal entries, or as advance organizers .
Types of essays can include:
- Scholarly. (See Critical Analysis Essay)
- Compare/Contrast. (For example, students can compare/contrast the relationship between Lennie and George. Are they similar to brothers, parent/child, best friends, and so on?)
- Descriptive. Students can emulate/evaluate Steinbeck’s descriptive writing. (See Sentence Fluency)
- Narrative. Under “Procedures,” see the topics in Ongoing (before or during the reading of the novel).
- Argumentative. (For example, what is “mercy killing”? Ask students to defend or condemn the practice, and argue reasons for their opinions.)
- Evaluation. (For example, if Of Mice and Men took place today, not during the 1930s, how would life for Lennie have been different?)
- Copies of Of Mice and Men.
- Teachers should emphasize that each short prompt should be concise and contain specific examples from the novel.
- Arrange time in the computer lab (if available), so students can start their assignments and teachers can assist students.
- For unfinished assignments, students may email themselves the document or place it on a USB flash drive.
Each short writing prompt can be assigned and completed in one or two homework assignments.
Provide some ideas and ask students to write about some (as much as can be covered during the unit) of these topics:
Ongoing (before or during the reading of the novel):
- What does friendship mean to you?
- How important is it to have a place where you belong, where there are people who know you and love you?
- What dreams do you have? How can these dreams fail? How can they succeed?
- Who is your favorite character in this book so far? Give your reasons for choosing him or her.
- Why does Steinbeck tend to start each new section with narrative description?
- Define “responsibility.” Give some examples when you have been responsible and when you have not.
- Write journal entries from the point of view of one of the characters in the novel.
- Which characters can you identify with or with whom you can empathize/sympathize?
- Do you know anyone who is mentally-challenged or otherwise disabled? If so, describe your relationship with that person.
- Is violence ever justified?
- Are you concerned about what others think of you?
- Write about a major conflict (during any stage of the novel).
- In which time period does the novel take place? How can you tell? Use specific examples. Consider: vocabulary, scenery, attitudes.
Section 1 (pp.1-16):
- Contrast/compare the relationship between Lennie and George. Are they similar to brothers, parent/child, best friends, and so on?
- What does the mouse in the first section tell you about Lennie? Think about why Lennie insists on carrying it around with him.
- Examine Lennie’s use of language and thinking. At what level is he functioning?
- What figurative language does Steinbeck use in this section and why? See Literary Terms.
- Why is setting important to Steinbeck? Consider why he usually starts each section of the novel with a description of the setting.
- What are the motifs already established in Section 1?
- Discuss, and provide examples of, the literary devices Steinbeck has introduced.
Section 2 (pp. 17-37):
- How does George try to prevent Lennie from getting into trouble?
- Why is Curley so mean to Lennie and George upon first meeting them? What does he have against them?
- Describe Curley’s personality. Why do you think he acts the way he does?
- Why does George tell Lennie to remain silent when they first meet the ranch boss?
- Why is the ranch boss so suspicious of George and Lennie?
- Why do Curley and Curley’s wife pose a threat to George and Lennie? Why is George especially worried?
Section 3 (pp.38-65):
- Why did Steinbeck include the scene about the killing of Candy’s dog?
- Why does Lennie refuse to fight back when Curley attacks him?
- Why does Curley agree to what Slim told him about how to explain his crushed hand?
- How does Slim get George to honestly talk about his relationship with Lennie and what happened in Weed?
- Describe Slim’s personality. Why is he so highly regarded?
- What is Candy’s role in this section? Why is it so important that he is included?
- What is the importance of Carlson in this section?
- Why is Curley so quick to attack Lennie?
Section 4 (pp. 66-83):
- On page 70, Crooks says to Lennie “‘I ain’t no southern negro…I was born right here in California.’” What does he mean by this? How was life different for African Americans in the south compared to those out west in California?
- Possible follow-up: Do you think there is any difference today?
- On page 70, recall the scene in Crooks’s quarters once Curley’s wife arrives (pages 76-83), focusing on what happens after the passage quoted above. What is Curley’s wife threatening to do to Crooks? How did Crooks react? Why did he react this way? What do you think about his reaction? Should he have reacted differently?
- How did Candy react? What do you think about his reaction? Should he have reacted differently?
- How would you have reacted if you were Crooks? If you were Candy?
- When Lennie visits Crooks, why is Crooks so mean to Lennie? Think about why he told Lennie that George would leave him.
- Explain what Crooks and Curley’s wife might have in common.
- Explain why Crooks finally allowed Lennie into his segregated living quarters. Think about the role each play in the novel.
Section 5 (pp. 84-98):
- Lennie’s puppy died. Have you ever had a pet that has died? Describe your emotional reaction.
- Why is the death of Lennie’s puppy not described in “real time: (that is, it is described after the fact)?
- Why does Lennie kill Curley’s wife? Do you consider this murder? Why or why not?
- Explain what Lennie and Curley’s wife may have in common as they converse in the barn. Why would those two even talk to each other?
- Is Curley’s wife partially responsible for her own death? Provide specific examples.
Section 6 (pp. 99-107):
- Why does Steinbeck include the fantasy scenes of Aunt Clara and the giant rabbit at the end of the novel?
- The novel ends where it begins. Why do you think Steinbeck did this? Would the novel be any different if Steinbeck had it end in a different place?
- Discuss any alternatives George had to shooting Lennie. What would be the consequences?
- What foreshadowed Lennie’s death? Students may cite brief examples from the entire novel.
- The novel ends with Carlson saying to Curley (about Slim and George), “‘Now what the hell ya suppose is eatin’ them two guys?’” (Steinbeck 107). Explain what Carlson means.
After reading the novel:
- What is “mercy killing”? Defend or condemn the practice, and give reasons for your opinion.
- Who is the most important character in Of Mice and Men?
- Write about a major theme in the novel. Why is it important? See Plot and Theme.
- Write about some major symbols in the novel. See Symbolism.
- Do you think Lennie understands what he does is wrong?
- Is Lennie a violent person?
- What is Slim’s role in the novel? Why is he so important?
- If Of Mice and Men took place today, not during the 1930s, how would life for Lennie have been different?
- Lynching is often referred to as “vigilante justice” or “taking the law into your own hands.” When, if ever, is this justified? Think outside of your own life. What about in other countries, other times, other conditions?
- What can you learn about race relations during the 1930s from Of Mice and Men? Use specific examples.
- After finishing Of Mice and Men, students should write a brief (a paragraph) summary of each of their short writing prompts. This will reinforce what they have learned throughout the course of the novel.
- Have students write an evaluation of the project and what they have learned.
- Make sure students keep all returned and graded short writing assignments (either electronically and/or in notebooks).
- In small groups, students can meet and, based on their short papers, come with questions to be used for a final examination on the novel.
- How thoroughly did the student respond to the writing prompt? Were specific, and correct, examples from the novel used to support opinions?
- Take into consideration the writing abilities of individual students when grading a writing assignment.
Common Core State Standards Met
- Reading Standards for Literature 6-12
- Key Ideas and Details: 1, 2, 3
- Craft and Structure: 4, 5, 6
- Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: 9
- Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity: 10
- Writing Standards 6-12
- Text Types and Purposes: 1, 2, 3
- Production and Distribution of Writing: 4, 5, 6
- Research to Build and Present Knowledge: 7, 9
- Range of Writing: 10
- Speaking and Listening Standards 6-12
- Comprehension and Collaboration: 1
- Language Standards 6-12
- Conventions of Standard English: 1, 2
- Knowledge of Language: 3
- Vocabulary Acquisition and Use: 4, 5, 6
- Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies 6-12
- Key Ideas and Details: 1, 2
- Craft and Structure: 4, 5
- Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects 6-12
- Text Types and Purposes: 1, 2
- Production and Distribution of Writing: 4, 5
- Research to Build and Present Knowledge: 7