Of Mice and Men

Why do you think Steinbeck started and ended the book in the same place? Consider use of nature, significance to Lennie and George and idea of a circle narrative

Chapter 6

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Steinbeck's careful control of setting in the novel is especially clear in this chapter, which finds us back at the beginning - at the brush near the Salinas River. As he did in the opening chapter, Steinbeck begins with a description of nature. Once again, this nature vignette resonates with the themes of the novel. We see the casual violence of nature - the stork devouring the water snake - and we see Lennie's nonchalant integration into this atmosphere as he stoops and drinks with his lips like a thirsty dog.

The content of Lennie's thoughts, and of Lennie and George's eventual conversation, also mirrors the opening. Lennie repeats the child-like, ritualistic cycle of separation and reconciliation that has seemingly marked his relationship with George for years. Once again he hears George complain that he could live it up if not for Lennie; once again he offers to leave George and live in the hills; once again he gets George to tell him about their rabbit utopia.

However, these similarities - the setting and the content - only ultimately emphasize how much has changed since the novel's opening. Where George was once full of life - angry and forgiving - now he is a husk of himself, bereft of emotion as he goes through his monologues. What was once a plausible - if far-fetched - fantasy has disintegrated into delusion. He knows what must happen, even as Lennie goes on believing in the rabbits. Whereas in Chapter One we see George and Lennie's "best laid plans," here in Chapter Six we have irrefutable evidence that, just as Robert Burns' poem predicts, these plans have gone awry.