Probably the definitive GCSE text – and we’ve got it covered. If you need help with how to study Steinbeck’s classic Of Mice and Men novel, then you’ve come to the right place. Here we cover it all: from imagery to place names; exam technique to practice questions. Don’t leave for your exam without reading this first!
Alternatively you can buy our full Of Mice and Men GCSE revision guide here.
York Notes: Helping you get the best grade for you!
The starting point is, obviously, to read the book. Sacrificing a few hours of your time to read the novel for yourself is the first step in familiarising yourself with the text.
Whilst reading, highlight your favourite moments, any lines that you particularly like or anything that really stands out.
Doing this means that you are interacting critically with the text, which will serve you well when you come to study the text more closely.
There are four main settings in Of Mice and Men, which can help you to contextualise the action/plot of the novel. They are:
✓ The pool
✓ The bunk house
✓ Crooks’s hut
✓ The barn
Draw a spider-diagram for each, noting what happens in each and why these settings are important. You could argue that having so few locations concentrates the action, making the novel feel more like a play in some respects. Why do you think Steinbeck does this?
The characters in Of Mice and Men are really memorable. Engaging with key characters such as Lennie and George will unlock the novel for you, and help to you form your own independent ideas. For example:
✓ What is it about the relationship between George and Lennie that is so striking?
✓ What would you have done in George’s shoes – is Slim right when he says ‘You hadda, George’?
Think about how the characters link to the themes of Relationships, Human fragility and Loneliness. This will enrich your study of both characters and themes!
Nothing is more impressive than being able to identify literary techniques used by an author and then comment on how they are effective! Grasping some of Steinbeck’s techniques and using the proper terms is a sure way to boost your grade. For example, do you know what a paradox is? How about metaphors and similes? Does Steinbeck use imagery? Does he foreshadow the ending?
REMEMBER: always comment on the effect of Steinbeck’s techniques.
Get some key quotations under your belt for themes, language and characters – sometimes you can find quotations that touch on all three.
Check out our ‘Key quotations’ feature in the Revise section of the Online guide to start you off!
REMEMBER: embed your quotations in a point in your essay for a more sophisticated answer.
The themes of Dreams and The American Dream are both central to your understanding of the novel, so make sure you know them inside out!
The American Dream doubles up as good contextual knowledge, too, so make sure you understand what is generally meant by The American Dream, and how Steinbeck uses this idea in Of Mice and Men.
Think of the context like the backdrop to the novel: without understanding it, the novel will not make complete sense. Make sure you are familiar with:
✓ The Great Depression
✓ The American Dream
This will give your answers more depth and show maturity. But, make sure you apply the context to the novel, don’t just repeat what you know.
How does the Depression shape the ranch hands and the life they lead? Understanding this may allow you to empathise with the characters more fully.
Try linking the key themes with characters and events. For example, ask yourself which characters/events can be most closely associated with following themes:
✓ Protest and racial prejudice
✓ Dreams versus reality
The more you ‘map’ your ideas, the more likely you are to remember key points and moments from the text as well as developing your own interpretations. For example, did you know that the name of the town, Soledad, means ‘loneliness’ in Spanish? Small details like this are a good way to make your essays stand out!
How much do you really know about the novel? Try and answer these questions – if you don’t know the answers, maybe a bit more revision is needed!
✓ How many sections is the novel divided into?
✓ What happened at Weed that caused Lennie and George to leave? In which chapter do we learn about this?
✓ Who brought up Lennie and handed him over to George to care for?
✓ List the reasons for killing Candy’s dog, and then list the reasons for George killing Lennie. How similar are they?
Nothing prepares you as well as practising some exam questions. Here are a few to get you started.
For more exam- or controlled assessment-style questions, see the Grade Booster section in the print and online study guide:
✓ In what way are dreams an important theme in the novel, and why do you think George and Lennie are unable to achieve theirs?
✓ How is the character of Curley important to the novel as a whole?
✓ How is the theme of friendship presented in the novel?