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9. Setting the scene

Of Mice and Men

John Steinbeck, 1937
Famous for: Bunnies, an “interesting” perspective on women, a horrible, tragic ending.

In Great Expectations, Pip is a striver like George in Of Mice and MenIn Of Mice and Men, author John Steinbeck uses the techniques of cinema to bring his readers into the action with George and Lennie.

Like any good screenwriter (and yes, Steinbeck was one of those, too—check out East of Eden, starring James Dean) or playwright (Steinbeck’s own adaptation *_Of Mice and Men_* has been a repeat Broadway hit), Steinbeck sets the stage of each chapter with the kind of detail that helps you see what he sees. In Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck shows his mastery of “You Are There” storytelling.


Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larsen also offers a vividly drawn setting.

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Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larsen

The setting in every book sets the stage—in other words, prepares the way—for the action of the story, and it usually plays a part in the author’s message, too. In Of Mice and Men that setting doesn’t just prepare the way, it literally sets the stage.

Take a look at the beginning of each chapter in Steinbeck’s novel. How does it start? With a description of the setting!

Here’s what we see—literally, see, because Steinbeck describes it in such tangible detail: the river, the bunkhouse in daylight, the bunkhouse at night, the harness room, the barn, and the river again.

So why am I spending 60 seconds pointing this out? Because Steinbeck was doing something unusual with Of Mice and Men. He called it an “experimental novel,” which was his way of saying that he sort of wanted it to be a play.  Can you see where I’m going with this? Think about a play. Scenes open with scene changes. You see the setting onstage before any of the characters show up and start spouting their lines.

It’s the same in Of Mice and Men. First, the stage is set; then the characters appear. This gives the novel a very concrete and memorable sense of place—you’ll never forget that little spot by the Salinas River after reading this book—but it also gives the story a theatrical feel.

And we’ll be talking about the significance of that in the next Recap.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck | 60second Recap study guide resources


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