Can I have some feedback on this practice essay please?
Describe the beginning and ending of the text.
Explain how the beginning and ending were connected.
Physical setting & characters
Articulation of the dream
A strong text often has the beginning and ending connected in some way. This gives a pleasing circularity to a story.
Nowhere is this better seen than in John Steinbeck’s 1937 novella, Of Mice and Men.
This essay will argue that the connection between the opening and ending setting of the clearing, and the actions of the characters, reinforces the precious but elusive nature of the dream held by George Milton and Lennie Small.
A small slice of possible paradise is dreamed of but then lost.
The novella opens by setting the scene in a clearing by the “deep green” Salinas river. Steinbeck creates a mood of warmth and peace in his description. The water is warm, the light is “evening of a hot day” and this is a place sought after by many - boys from the ranch who come to swim, and tramps who seek to “jungle up near water”. A lizard skitters in the leaves and rabbits sit “as quietly as little grey, sculptured stones”. A heron flies away as two men enter the clearing - George and Lennie. Lennie snorts noisily into the water, drinking thirstily. George warns him that it might not be good water, but Lennie insists that it is. Both men rest here.
We learn that they are on the run because of an incident in Weed, where Lennie grabbed a girl’s dress. George tells Lennie “You get in trouble. You do bad things and I got to get you out.” He muses “I could get along so easy and nice if I didn’t have you on my tail.”He makes Lennie throw away a dead mouse that he has been keeping to pet. Lennie says if George “don’ wan” hm, he will go off and live in a cave. But George says he wants him to stay. Later that evening Lennie insists that George recount their dream - “Tell me - like you done before.” This is like a child’s bedtime ritual. Lennie knows every word but wants George to tell it. “Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world.” Lennie says “But not us!..Because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you.” George recites the dream - “someday…we’re gonna have a little house and a couple of acres…an live off the fatta the lan’” George promises Lennie that he will get to “tend the rabbits”. George also tells Lennie that if he gets in trouble again, he is to come to this place “an’ hide in the brush…till I come for you.” So from the beginning the clearing is established as a place of peace and safety.
Steinbeck ends the story in the same setting - the clearing. Yet this time there are subtle and important differences in its description. The river is still “deep green” but the sun “had left the valley” and shade has fallen. A water snake glides up the pool “twisting its periscope head from side to side” and comes to the heron, but this time, in a flash, the heron plucks it out and swallows it. Another little water snake swims up the pool towards the motionless heron. Death is waiting. Lennie enters the clearing and the heron flies off. The second snake slides in among the reeds - a survivor. This time there are no rabbits beside the river. Lennie drinks again, more carefully than before. The nature imagery with the symbolism of the heron as hunter and snake as unsuspecting innocent makes us appreciate that this is now a potentially dangerous place for Lennie.
Lennie muses that “George gonna give me hell” and that he could go off and find a cave. “If George don’t want me…I’ll go away. I’ll go away.” This echoes the earlier exchange at the beginning. Lennie then has a vision of his Aunt Clara who berates him. “All the time he coulda had such a good time if it wasn’t for you.” Again, this echoes George’s first complaint at the beginning. Lennie is then also scolded by a vision of a giant rabbit who says George will beat Lennie with a stick and “leave ya all alone”. Lennie strongly protests saying George would never do that. Then George enters. Lennie asks “Ain’t you gonna give me hell?” George again recites “If I was alone I could live so easy”. Lennie says he will go off and “find a cave if you don’ want me.” But George says “I want you to stay with me here”. Lennie then asks him to tell him the dream again - “Tell how it’s gonna be.” George gets Lennie to “Look acrost the river…an’ I’ll tell you so you can almost see it.” Again, as in the beginning, he is trying to soothe Lennie with the recitation of the dream. But this time, as Lennie begs “Le’s get that place now” George shoots his friend in the back of the head, before Curley and his posse arrive.
The clearing in the beginning is a place of safety, peace - a sanctuary of sorts. In the ending, the clearing has a more sinister atmosphere, and death is foreshadowed from the start of the setting description. The dream of these two men is recited again, but this time, with the killing of Lennie, the dream is also irrevocably shattered. The tragedy is complete. George leaves the clearing without his friend, without hope for a better future. The paradise once dreamed of, is now lost.