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Steinbeck’s portrayal of the four key settings; the clearing, the bunkhouse, crooks room and the barn, develops the readers understanding of the Novella by emphasising the concept of failure in conjunction with the American Dream, thus allowing us to empathise with important characters within of mice and men. In the opening chapter, Steinbeck achieves an understanding of timelessness through the description of a peaceful but eerie clearing. This clearing has great significance in the story as it is where Steinbeck starts and finishes his novel; it is described as “lifeless” and “pleasant.
” This depiction of the tranquillity of the setting is ironic, as although to lennie it represents a safe place to come if something “bad” happens, it is ultimately where he ends his life. Of Mice and Men is an example of a circular narrative, which suggests that although lennie and George are different from all the other characters, they are all ensnared into an inescapable cycle of working, “blowing their stake” in “cat houses” and then moving on.
Steinbeck uses similar words to describe the clearing in both section 1 and section 6. It helps to enhance the timelessness of the setting. “A stilted heron” appears in the opening chapter, reappearing as a “motionless heron” in the final chapter. A bird “skittered” over the same dry leaves that a lizard made “a great skittering” over in the first chapter. And a “flame” and “blaze” comes from the tops of the Gabilan Mountains. Although this similarity is idyllic and natural, it is also overbearing and depressing, as it is confining.
Furthermore; it suggests that the tranquillity of this final setting is vitreous and fragile; this was made evident when lennie arrived at the clearing and the peace was shattered. When lennie returns to the “brush” in the final chapter, yet again the heron “flew off down river”. The heron is making its escape, showing the freedom that both George and lennie will never have. In chapter 1, the heron flew off leaving the water snake safe in the pool, this conflicts with the final chapter, where a heron kills a water snake, before “jacking” itself clear of the water.
This subtle difference suggests that the pool is not safe for lennie anymore. Pathetic fallacy also hints at the changes to this beautiful clearing since lennie and George first “jungle up” there, with a “little wind” becoming a “rush”. This foreshadows that something really bad must be about to happen to change this arcadian setting into such an unpleasant place. Chapter 2 and chapter 3 are both set in the bunkhouse. It is a very important setting as it is where we learn about the characters and where candy, lennie and George realise that their dream may become a reality.
The bunkhouse is very much a microcosm of everyday life at the ranch. Convenient and simple, designed only to accommodate the men who worked hard. There are no luxuries or games for these men, except for a small pack of playing cards, used as an opportunity by Steinbeck to introduce us to the characters of the novel. In a sense, life for these men is very much like they are part of a machine. In such a restrictive living environment with “white washed walls” and “unpainted floors” these men are indistinguishable in character and dreams.
They live to work, and when they can no longer work, they starve. Through Steinbeck’s scrutiny of small and seemingly insignificant features of the bunkhouse, he reveals a sense of conformism about the workers living together in this small, unpleasant and uncomfortable environment. The bunkhouse is a very functional space, each section of the room is developed to maximise the efficiency of this otherwise, quite plain and humble building. Not only is this reflected in the workers themselves, but also in their few belongings.
Upon each workers “apple box” – an example of the practicality and simplicity of the building- there are few “little articles”, each designed to make life on the ranch easier and therefore more productive for each of these men. One of these “articles” is the “talcum powder”, necessary to assist the men in providing some level of cleanliness, after a long day working hard at the ranch. This helps us to understand the situation of these men, whilst emphasising the lack of personal belongings, and hence, a lack of identity, leaving the men to resort to conformism.