Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The old man #1

The old man, whose name we learn at a later point, represents a number of themes and ideas.  He is an important character as he is the one who leads the reader to have an opinion regarding Curley in tandem with George's own opinion; he is the one who labels Curley's wife a "tart" and sets up the gender division within the novel; he uses the racist term "nigger" at some length and gives us some introduction to the character of the black man who is bullied by the boss when he's angry and a figure of hate for men like Smitty who apparently "woulda killed the nigger".

At each introduction the old man calls whoever he talks about a "nice fella", apart from Curley and his wife.  This suggests the qualifications of 'nice fella' are easy to come by.

The old man also, notably, has a stump at the end of one arm where he has lost his hand.  He not only represents the older generation, but the disabled.

The connection between George and the old man eventually prospers when the old man is able to rebuke Curley by sharing the news about Curley's hand that he keeps in a glove "fulla vaseline".  This suggests that men can connect with each other only when another is identified as a shared point of hate or derision.

Summary Task: How is the old man different to George?

Steinbeck uses the old man to guide the reader's opinion; he presents him as a gentle figure who is also sentimental.  He has a dog and is proud of the dog's prowess as a sheep dog in its youth.

One of the most important things the old man says is "A guy on a ranch don't never listen nor he don't ast no questions."

Summary Task: What does this final quotation tell you about life on ranches at this time?

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Nature #1

From the very beginning of the novel the natural world is used as an active figure and backdrop to the narrative.  The opening description sets a tranquil setting, a near paradise, used, in the majority, by various animals: deer, herons, lizards, racoons, water snakes, rabbits and dogs from the ranch.  There is a path however that leads up to the pool and the worn limb of a sycamore that many men, boys from the ranch and tramps travelling the countryside have used.  There is a patch used for a campfire as well.  For the men that use this place Nature is a place of rest and retreat; an escape from their own world.  Steinbeck uses the word "beaten" when describing how the path has been made.  This is a hard word, a violent word and points to the nature of man, even in looking for paradise he beats his way there.

Summary Task: List the colours referred to and respond to their choice

Note that the writer connects Lennie, through simile and description, to nature - likening him to a horse, a bear and pointing to his treatment by George being, at times, like a dog.  Lennie is the bridge between Nature and Man and his "dabbling" of the water shows he has an effect upon the natural world that is also metaphorical of his effect upon the world of Man; his actions have consequences!

Summary Task: Which words that Steinbeck has employed make the place seem quiet?

As beautiful as the place by the pool is, Steinbeck also uses description of the natural world to foreshadow violence, or the threat of violence - even death.  Halfway through the chapter he writes, "The flame of the sunset lifted from the mountaintops and dusk came into the valley, and a half darkness came in among the willows and the sycamores."

The use of "flame" suggests destruction and beauty while the invasion of the darkness emphasises the threat of death, though this is only a half threat, a "half darkness".  Even so, paradise has been invaded by a darkness that wasn't there before.  Eventually the last line lays the final hint that peace is under threat "The sycamore leaves whispered in a little night breeze."

There are only three settings in the whole novel.  The pool-side, the bunkhouse at the ranch and the barn.  

Summary Task: What, if any, is the significance of the water snake and what allusions could you draw from its presence?

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Lennie in Chapter One #1

Lennie is the second character we meet, but visually he is the more dominant of the two.  He can’t resist but draw the reader’s attention and sympathies early on.  He is a follower and literally follows behind George into the scene.  It is interesting that when walking Steinbeck notes that whether on a path or in the open Lennie and George walk “in single file”.  They have an established relationship and journeying together, though together, seems a solitary time – this only heightens the paradox of loneliness in the company of others.

Steinbeck presents two men who on some level are presented as the same; they wear the same clothes, but each is uniquely different to the other.  Again this points to the paradox between the two.  Lennie’s description is most important; Steinbeck makes allusions between Lennie and various animals in the way he is described physically and the behaviour he displays.

Summary Task: Find all the references to animals used regarding Lennie

Steinbeck makes sure that we, the readers, feel an attachment to Lennie.  His actions invoke this, particularly his mimicking of George when he sits down.  The slow and rhythmic way that Steinbeck lists the actions and then re-lists them seem almost like stage directions and you can picture the actor copying George the way a child might.  Not only does Steinbeck use description to gain our sympathy, but also speech.  They way Lennie speaks at the very beginning creates an immediate picture of someone who speaks simply, in almost a child-like manner.

Summary Task: Find three phrases Lennie uses that help emphasise the child-like quality he has.

Further on Steinbeck engages the playful side of Lennie when he tries to hide the mouse, using the precision of George’s question to outfox him.  George asks “’What’d you take outta that pocket?’” and Lennie replies “’Ain’t a thing in my pocket’”.  This sharpness of wit is amusing in itself, but it also shows that George doesn’t have time for it.  Later on Lennie also plays the role of wounded friend threatening to go and live in a cave.  In both instances the childishness of the play on words and the immaturity of the threat make the incongruity of the child in an adult’s body that much more apparent to us and he gains a great deal of favour through our pity for someone in his position.

Preparation Question: What is Lennie able to remember and why?

Throughout Chapter One we are given hints that something bad has happened and something bad could happen again.  There are early references to Weed until eventually we are told what happened by George.  It also seems clear that the two men often lose jobs because of Lennie, “…we got to sneak outta the country.  All the time somethin’ like that – all the time.” The repletion at the end shows us just how exasperated George is, but also just how common it has been for them almost as though they are stuck in a cycle.

Final Question: what is the significance of the moment Lennie “dabbles his big paw” in the pool and creates the rings?

George in Chapter One #1

George is the first character to enter the scene, followed by Lennie.  Although there are only two of them, he is clearly the leader not only because he leads the way, but also because he gives the orders.

What does George have command over?

  1. The work cards.
  2. The route.
  3. How the men spend their time.
  4. Their food.
  5. Their money.
  6. What, if anything, Lennie is allowed to say.

George's behaviour reveals as much about himself as it does about Lennie and the lives they lead.  George clearly struggles with the friendship despite his talk about how they are different to other men.  George conducts us through the dream about the ranch and living off the "fatta the lan'", however there is an overt reluctance to talk about it or even conclude the story.  He tells Lennie "You got it by heart.  You can do it yourself" and eventually he gives up telling it.
The difficulty in terms of their friendship is also evident when George talks about how he could live more easily and spend his time enjoying himself between jobs.  In each instance George shows a harder edge to his character and rebukes Lennie's friendship, but steers himself back to a softer nature demonstrating that as much as he finds it frustrating, there is also something rewarding in the relationship.

Summary Question: Is George an altruistic person?

Chapter One also shows us that George is a caring individual.  He advises Lennie, though it's somewhat too late, not to drink from water that isn't running.  This is in fact our first introduction to George and how he is forced to speak to Lennie.  Steinbeck tells us he speaks "sharply" when telling Lennie not to drink, but that this sharp talk comes from a position of care as he is worried Lennie will be sick "like [he] was last night".  If we look at how he talks to Lennie we see evidence of him speaking severely and more tenderly.

Summary Task: Make a table, or mind-map of the things that are written or spoken showing a harsh character and a gentle character in George.

As much as George commands the above list, he also controls the dream and the fulfillment of this using it as a potential reward for Lennie's good behaviour.  When Lennie successfully remembers vital information George tells him "When we get the coupla of acres I can let you tend the rabbits."

Summary Question: What is Lennie reliant on George for?

Friday, 22 February 2013

Help for Josh and Josh

Sorry for delay guys if you've been looking for this post.  There have been problems with the server.

Make the most of it and I'll see you in the new half-term.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Discussing Symbolism

Discuss one of the methods that Steinbeck uses to explore his ideas


Some of the ideas you could cover are:

The World

Another interesting lesson with Charlie today who was looking into how nature is presented by Steinbeck.  At the opening of the novel we see a perfect place, a beautiful and tranquil setting in which a heron is described exploding into the air and flying off down stream.  We talked about how the heron, for a bird, is a large and graceful, in some ways like Lennie, though graceful may be stretching it: it as least a powerful bird.  Our first introduction to it is quite simple.
In the final chapter the heron is described once more, this time Steinbeck writes that its "head and beak lanced down and plucked [the water snake] out by the head."  Charlie suggested that if the heron is Lennie then the water snake could be symbolic of Curley's wife, after all she is killed by Lennie, but furthermore snakes are symbolic of deceitfulness and malevolence, as well as distrust, just as Curley's wife is in the novel.  She is arguably as dangerous as the snake, her words are poisonous after all - remember how she speaks to Crooks when he stands up to her.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Henry and Charlie

Some thoughts from Henry and Charlie on Slim, America and the Dream

Charlie and Henry popped along after school today for some advice.  Charlie was late, but he has returned my Banksy book after 18 months so all is forgiven.

The boys were talking about Slim and there were some thoughts based on him that really got me excited.  Think of Slim and how the author presents him, a "master craftsmen", "princely" and wise.  Now remember what he says about himself were he in the position of the dog.  He tells Candy that he wishes someone would shoot him if he grew old and useless (ironic in some ways as he is telling Candy this who IS old and arguably useless, especially with his hand in the condition it is); he has decided that his life is free of aspiration.  It is interesting that such a 'perfect' character would not buy into the Dream that pervades the lives of Lennie, George, Candy and, for a time, Crooks.

Charlie began to question why Slim wouldn't, if he is so perfect.  What Charlie is suggesting is that Slim, because he is wise, sees that he should be comfortable with what he has and that to Dream is useless.  In many ways he represents the reality of the situation in America at the time.  He IS wise not to dream because at least then he cannot be hurt as Candy, Crooks and George are.

Henry agreed with this and said Charlie was tank.

Essentially the boys are also saying the Dream is foolish.  To Dream of a life beyond the clutches of the world and essentially reality was foolish: there was no escape for anyone at this time and they are all trapped.  Remember that the ranch is a microcosm, meaning it is meant to represent the rest of the immediate world at that time.  Arguably Lennie is the only one who attains his dream as he is happiest when George is telling it him "like you done before"...he dies imagining the dream, which is as close as anyone can come.