Of Mice And Men Text Response Essay

Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements for “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in the text and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of “Of Mice and Men” in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: The Needs Served by Relationships

All human beings develop relationships with others because those relationships fill particular needs. Those needs may be physical, economic, psychological, or social. Analyze the complex relationship between George and his mentally compromised friend, Lennie. Write an essay in which you explain the needs of each character that are fulfilled by the other. Be sure to examine all of the areas of need identified above. Once you have done this, render a judgment about whether George is exploiting Lennie, and if so, whether you think Lennie minds this exploitation. Be sure to cite evidence from the text in this argumentative essay on “Of Mice and Men”

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: Steinbeck as Social Activist

Many of Steinbeck’s novels address facets of social problems that impact the marginalized people of society in profound ways. There are many social problems that are explored in this novel, including the treatment and perception of people who are poor, people who are mentally challenged, and African Americans. Examine Steinbeck’s treatment of these social problems, and consider whether he presents them as equivalent. In other words, are all marginalized people in the same boat? Consider the characteristics of these marginalized groups as they are presented in the novel and compare and contrast their conditions.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: The Theme of Anxiety

Many of the major and minor characters in Of Mice and Men are suffering from persistent anxiety. Most of the characters are marginalized and the grinding poverty and frustration that they experience keeps them in a state of constant anticipation, followed by crushing disappointment. Write an essay in which you use theories from psychology and psychoanalysis to explain what anxiety is, how it affects these characters, and how it limits their possibilities to overcome some of the internal barriers that they erect against themselves, as well as the external conditions that restrict them.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: The Role of Minor Characters in “Of Mice and Men”

Lennie and George are the two main characters in Of Mice and Men, but there is a cast of “minor" characters as well. These characters include Candy, Curley, Crooks, and Slim. The very names of these characters allude to characteristics that serve to reflect or refract the psychological profiles and relationships of Lennie and George. Using one or more of these “minor" characters, explain their significance to the overall content and theme of the novel. Be sure to note the characteristics that these minor characters share with Lennie and George (namely, loneliness), but characteristics that may differ, too.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #5: Profound Loneliness

The pervasive emotion experienced by all of the characters in Of Mice and Men is loneliness (see quotes, below). The loneliness is, on the one hand, real- none of the men wants to be alone. The loneliness is also, though, profoundly existential and symbolic. The men do not want to be alone with themselves, and they do not want to be left behind by society. Write an analytic essay in which you evaluate these various levels of loneliness. Go beneath the superficial sense of loneliness, and mine the deeper meanings. Conclude with a statement of your belief about what Steinbeck wished to convey about the nature of human relationships.


This list of important quotations from “Of Mice and Men” will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from “Of Mice and Men” listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the text by John Steinbeck they are referring to.

“Whatever we ain't got, that's what you want." (11)

“Well, I never seen one guy take so much trouble for another guy. I just like to know what your interest is.” (25)

“Say it over to yourself, Lennie, so you won’t forget it." (29)

“I ain't got no people…. 'Course Lennie's a God damn nuisance most of the time, but you get used to goin' around with a guy an' you can't get rid of him.” (45)

“Books ain't no good. A guy needs somebody-to be near him. A guy goes nuts if he ain't got nobody. Don't make no difference who the guy is, long's he's with you. I tell ya, I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an' he gets sick.” (80)

“I seen hunderds of men come by on the road an' on the ranches, with their bindles on their back an' that same damn thing in their heads. Hunderds of them. They come, an' they quit an' go on; an' every damn one of 'em's got a little piece of land in his head. An' never a God damn one of 'em ever gets it. Just like heaven. Everybody wants a little piece of lan'. I read plenty of books out here. Nobody never gets to heaven, and nobody gets no land. It's just in their head. They're all the time talkin' about it, but it's jus' in their head.” (81)

“You ain’t gonna leave me, are ya’ George? I know you ain’t!" (98)

“‘I done another bad thing.’ ‘It don’t make no difference.’" (98)

“I think I knowed from the very first. I think I knowed we'd never do her. He usta like to hear about it so much I got to thinking maybe we would.” (103)

“Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don't belong no place. . . . With us it ain't like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us. We don't have to sit in no bar room blowin' in our jack jus' because we got no place else to go. If them other guys gets in jail they can rot for all anybody gives a damn. But not us." ( 121 )

Reference: Steinbeck. John. Of Mice and Men. New York: Penguin, 2002.

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Discipline

Language Arts, History

Grade Level

7-12

Type of Activity

Small Group, Individual, Ongoing, Sharing Work, Brief Research, Writing

Objectives

  • Students will have ongoing practice writing short papers (150-200 words, in different styles) on a variety of Of Mice and Men topics.
  • Students will learn to share their writing with others.
  • Students will gain a deeper understanding of each section of Of Mice and Men.

Overview

Even though the Of Mice and Men unit may culminate with a major scholarly paper, short writing prompts (150-200 words) should be given throughout the unit. The prompts can be both broad and specific. Students should be made to feel comfortable with these prompts, even though (time permitting) some will read them out loud. The student audience will be encouraged to respond and take notes.

NOTE TO TEACHERS: Any of the writing topics in this section can be expanded into full-length essays (word length and completion time at the discretion of teachers). These short writing prompts can also be used as discussion topics , journal entries, or as advance organizers .

Types of essays can include:

  • Scholarly. (See Critical Analysis Essay) 
  • Compare/Contrast. (For example, students can compare/contrast the relationship between Lennie and George. Are they similar to brothers, parent/child, best friends, and so on?)
  • Descriptive. Students can emulate/evaluate Steinbeck’s descriptive writing. (See Sentence Fluency) 
  • Narrative. Under “Procedures,” see the topics in Ongoing (before or during the reading of the novel).
  • Argumentative. (For example, what is “mercy killing”?  Ask students to defend or condemn the practice, and argue reasons for their opinions.)
  • Evaluation. (For example, if Of Mice and Men took place today, not during the 1930s, how would life for Lennie have been different?)

Materials Needed/Preparation

  • Copies of Of Mice and Men.
  • Teachers should emphasize that each short prompt should be concise and contain specific examples from the novel.
  • Arrange time in the computer lab (if available), so students can start their assignments and teachers can assist students.
  • For unfinished assignments, students may email themselves the document or place it on a USB flash drive.

Estimated Time

Each short writing prompt can be assigned and completed in one or two homework assignments.

Procedures

Provide some ideas and ask students to write about some (as much as can be covered during the unit) of these topics:

Ongoing (before or during the reading of the novel):

  • What does friendship mean to you?
  • How important is it to have a place where you belong, where there are people who know you and love you?
  • What dreams do you have? How can these dreams fail? How can they succeed?
  • Who is your favorite character in this book so far? Give your reasons for choosing him or her.
  • Why does Steinbeck tend to start each new section with narrative description?
  • Define “responsibility.” Give some examples when you have been responsible and when you have not.
  • Write journal entries from the point of view of one of the characters in the novel.
  • Which characters can you identify with or with whom you can empathize/sympathize?
  • Do you know anyone who is mentally-challenged or otherwise disabled? If so, describe your relationship with that person.
  • Is violence ever justified?
  • Are you concerned about what others think of you?
  • Write about a major conflict (during any stage of the novel).
  • In which time period does the novel take place? How can you tell? Use specific examples. Consider:  vocabulary, scenery, attitudes.

Section 1 (pp.1-16):

  • Contrast/compare the relationship between Lennie and George. Are they similar to brothers, parent/child, best friends, and so on?
  • What does the mouse in the first section tell you about Lennie? Think about why Lennie insists on carrying it around with him.
  • Examine Lennie’s use of language and thinking. At what level is he functioning?
  • What figurative language does Steinbeck use in this section and why? See Literary Terms.
  • Why is setting important to Steinbeck? Consider why he usually starts each section of the novel with a description of the setting.
  • What are the motifs already established in Section 1?
  • Discuss, and provide examples of, the literary devices Steinbeck has introduced. 

Section 2 (pp. 17-37):

  • How does George try to prevent Lennie from getting into trouble?
  • Why is Curley so mean to Lennie and George upon first meeting them? What does he have against them?
  • Describe Curley’s personality. Why do you think he acts the way he does?
  • Why does George tell Lennie to remain silent when they first meet the ranch boss?
  • Why is the ranch boss so suspicious of George and Lennie?
  • Why do Curley and Curley’s wife pose a threat to George and Lennie? Why is George especially worried?

Section 3 (pp.38-65):

  • Why did Steinbeck include the scene about the killing of Candy’s dog?
  • Why does Lennie refuse to fight back when Curley attacks him?
  • Why does Curley agree to what Slim told him about how to explain his crushed hand?
  • How does Slim get George to honestly talk about his relationship with Lennie and what happened in Weed?
  • Describe Slim’s personality. Why is he so highly regarded?
  • What is Candy’s role in this section? Why is it so important that he is included?
  • What is the importance of Carlson in this section?
  • Why is Curley so quick to attack Lennie?

Section 4 (pp. 66-83):

  • On page 70, Crooks says to Lennie “‘I ain’t no southern negro…I was born right here in California.’” What does he mean by this? How was life different for African Americans in the south compared to those out west in California?
  • Possible follow-up: Do you think there is any difference today?
  • On page 70, recall the scene in Crooks’s quarters once Curley’s wife arrives (pages 76-83), focusing on what happens after the passage quoted above. What is Curley’s wife threatening to do to Crooks? How did Crooks react? Why did he react this way? What do you think about his reaction? Should he have reacted differently?
  • How did Candy react? What do you think about his reaction? Should he have reacted differently?
  • How would you have reacted if you were Crooks? If you were Candy?
  • When Lennie visits Crooks, why is Crooks so mean to Lennie? Think about why he told Lennie that George would leave him.
  • Explain what Crooks and Curley’s wife might have in common.
  • Explain why Crooks finally allowed Lennie into his segregated living quarters. Think about the role each play in the novel.

Section 5 (pp. 84-98):

  • Lennie’s puppy died. Have you ever had a pet that has died? Describe your emotional reaction.
  • Why is the death of Lennie’s puppy not described in “real time: (that is, it is described after the fact)?
  • Why does Lennie kill Curley’s wife? Do you consider this murder? Why or why not?
  • Explain what Lennie and Curley’s wife may have in common as they converse in the barn. Why would those two even talk to each other?
  • Is Curley’s wife partially responsible for her own death? Provide specific examples.

Section 6 (pp. 99-107):

  • Why does Steinbeck include the fantasy scenes of Aunt Clara and the giant rabbit at the end of the novel?
  • The novel ends where it begins. Why do you think Steinbeck did this? Would the novel be any different if Steinbeck had it end in a different place?
  • Discuss any alternatives George had to shooting Lennie. What would be the consequences? 
  • What foreshadowed Lennie’s death? Students may cite brief examples from the entire novel.
  • The novel ends with Carlson saying to Curley (about Slim and George), “‘Now what the hell ya suppose is eatin’ them two guys?’” (Steinbeck 107). Explain what Carlson means.

After reading the novel:

  • What is “mercy killing”? Defend or condemn the practice, and give reasons for your opinion.
  • Who is the most important character in Of Mice and Men?
  • Write about a major theme in the novel. Why is it important? See Plot and Theme.
  • Write about some major symbols in the novel. See Symbolism.
  • Do you think Lennie understands what he does is wrong?
  • Is Lennie a violent person?
  • What is Slim’s role in the novel? Why is he so important?
  • If Of Mice and Men took place today, not during the 1930s, how would life for Lennie have been different?
  • Lynching is often referred to as “vigilante justice” or “taking the law into your own hands.” When, if ever, is this justified? Think outside of your own life. What about in other countries, other times, other conditions?
  • What can you learn about race relations during the 1930s from Of Mice and Men? Use specific examples.

Post Activity/Takeaways/Follow-up

  • Takeaways
    • After finishing Of Mice and Men, students should write a brief (a paragraph) summary of each of their short writing prompts. This will reinforce what they have learned throughout the course of the novel.
  • Follow-up
    • Have students write an evaluation of the project and what they have learned.
    • Make sure students keep all returned and graded short writing assignments (either electronically and/or in notebooks).

Assessment

  • In small groups, students can meet and, based on their short papers, come with questions to be used for a final examination on the novel.
  • How thoroughly did the student respond to the writing prompt?  Were specific, and correct, examples from the novel used to support opinions?
  • Take into consideration the writing abilities of individual students when grading a writing assignment.

Common Core State Standards Met

  • Reading Standards for Literature 6-12
    • Key Ideas and Details: 1, 2, 3
    • Craft and Structure: 4, 5, 6
    • Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: 9
    • Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity: 10
  • Writing Standards 6-12
    • Text Types and Purposes: 1, 2, 3
    • Production and Distribution of Writing: 4, 5, 6
    • Research to Build and Present Knowledge: 7, 9
    • Range of Writing: 10
  • Speaking and Listening Standards 6-12
    • Comprehension and Collaboration: 1
  • Language Standards 6-12
    • Conventions of Standard English: 1, 2
    • Knowledge of Language: 3
    • Vocabulary Acquisition and Use: 4, 5, 6
  • Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies 6-12
    • Key Ideas and Details: 1, 2
    • Craft and Structure: 4, 5
  • Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects 6-12
    • Text Types and Purposes: 1, 2
    • Production and Distribution of Writing: 4, 5
    • Research to Build and Present Knowledge: 7

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