Of Mice and Men

Describe the atmosphere of the ranch and bunkhouse ( chapter 2 )

Describe the atmosphere of the ranch and bunkhouse ( chapter 2 )

Include characteristics of different characters that were formally or informally introdouced in this chapter.

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As for an analysis of the character we're introduced to, gradesavers's chapter analysis should have everything you need.

"The novel as a whole, and this chapter in particular, shares many elements with stage drama. Steinbeck often uses a single room as a setting for a scene, as the bunk house is used here. This technique allows him to introduce a wide variety of characters quickly without using a narrator - the characters talk about each other, interact, and even describe each other (as when Candy talks about Curley being a "little guy"), all of which facilitates relatively rich characterization in a relatively short number of pages.

This stage technique applies to Steinbeck's descriptions as well as his dialogue. Consider the description of Candy's dog at the close of the chapter: "[The dog] gazed about with mild, half-blind eyes. He sniffed, and then lay down and put his head between his paws [etc.]." Steinbeck's language is completely shorn of emotion; he simply describes the animal's actions as a playwright might write stage directions.

This "dramatic" technique gives Steinbeck's story a portentous quality. On one level, he is simply describing an evening among itinerant workers in a realistic way; on another level, the actions and personae of these workers take on a larger, almost mythic significance. Just as in dramatic works of the same period - such as Thornton Wilder's Our Town - Steinbeck blends the workaday with the highly stylized, bringing out the eternal, allegorical character of everyday life. Thus Curley comes to represent all petty, embittered men; Crooks stands in for the persecution and the suffering of all African Americans; George is the eternal cynic-with-a-heart-of-gold and Lennie personifies clumsy innocence. The characters are types, or even archetypes, as much as they are individuals - a technique more popularly associated with plays and films than with literary fiction.

This stage technique also allows Steinbeck to build tension quickly without exposition. The atmosphere of Chapter Two is immediately hostile and uncomfortable: George suspects that his bed is infested, the Boss suspects that George and Lennie are trying to pull a fast one, Candy is miserable and decrepit, Curley is looking for a fight, Curley's wife is vamping around suspiciously. Lennie, in his instinctive, animalistic way, captures the foreboding tone of the Chapter when he bursts out, "I don't like this place, George. This ain't no good place." Right away, there are several points of inevitable conflict, most of them hinging on the character of Curley, who seems to rub everyone the wrong way. The only positive character in the Chapter is Slim, who is also the character described at greatest length; but even Slim comes off as life-hardened - the first fact we learn about him is that he has drowned four out of his nine new puppies. One should immediately recognize how completely out-of-place Lennie is in this hostile, gloomy environment: he is innocent, naive, clumsy and childish in the midst of a bunch of shrewd, ugly, lonely, conniving men.

And Steinbeck's novel certainly features men rather than women. The only woman with any important role in the novel (aside from the memory of Lennie's Aunt Clara) is Curley's Wife, a lonely and desperate "tramp," to use Candy's word, who is every bit as meddlesome as Curley fears. Steinbeck's attitude toward her, at least at this stage in the novel, is hardly sympathetic. She doesn't even receive a name, she dresses garishly and talks provocatively. There is more than a whiff of sexism in her depiction. However, Steinbeck is careful to hint as a possible motive for her behavior even at this early stage. She is, after all, stuck with the most loathsome imaginable husband, Curley - who apparently keeps her confined in their house whenever possible, who obnoxiously brags about their sex life (exemplified by the grotesque image of the Vaseline-filled glove), and who cannot be good company. Curley married her because she was flashy, and now her flashiness causes him nothing but distress. She is stuck in a loveless - and perhaps, despite Curley's bragging to the contrary, a sexless - marriage, and can be pitied for seeking other company.

Speaking of the Vaseline-filled glove, pay attention to how often and how variedly Steinbeck references hands in this Chapter and throughout the book. On the most basic level, hands are crucial to the work of the farm - these men, after all, live by their labor. They also function metaphorically. Curley, especially, is repeatedly described as "handy," a term that Candy uses to mean "good at fighting." His hands are further connected to his sex life - his Vaseline-filled glove creates an association between his hand and his sexual organ (why else, after all, would one soften up one's hand?). This association becomes especially important as the tension established in this Chapter spills over into crisis in the pages ahead."

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