In Steinbeck’s novella Of Mice and Men he begins each section with a description of the place that the chapter will take place in, almost as if he is setting the scene for a play. He begins the story with a vivid and poetic description of a clearing; when the same place is described at the end of the book it has a predatory feel. At the start of the second chapter Steinbeck gives a very impersonal, functional description of the bunkhouse which is symbolic of the impersonal, functional lives the men lead. His description of the stable buck’s room develops the theme of loneliness, and presents ideas about the animalisation of black people in 20th century America.
The rich visual imagery used by Steinbeck to describe the clearing suggests a kind of Eden. The ‘golden foothills’ give us a sense of natural richness; the colour gold is often associated with wealth. The willows that are ‘fresh and green with every spring’ connote newness and hope. The clearing feels like a secure place due to the ‘limbs’ of the trees and the arching branches; this personification makes it seem as if the trees are protecting people that enter the clearing. Despite all this there is a sense that the place is too good to be true, it is only temporary and illusionary. The ‘twinkling’ water gives it a dream-like feel; a feeling that the calmness and serenity will not last.
The limbs that have been ‘worn smooth’ show that many men have passed through this clearing. Steinbeck could be illustrating how George and Lennie are just two of thousands of men who have passed through the clearing with their own personal dreams; that they are just a small part of the bigger picture. He could also be criticising the linear American lifestyle which is based on the pursuit of material wealth: the men could have stayed to appreciate the natural wealth of the clearing, but they chose to move on and inevitably fail to achieve their dreams of a hedonistic life. However George appears to be different; he seems to appreciate the natural richness of the clearing: ‘It’s gonna be nice sleepin’ here’ he says. Steinbeck describes an ash pile which has been left by other people who have passed through the clearing. Ash has connotations of death; this could possibly be foreshadowing the death of Lennie in the same clearing later on. The fires that were once burning could represent dreams and the ash could represent how the dreams are consumed; ash is an inevitable result of fire, this could be reinforcing the idea that dreaming is futile. The ash pile could also be symbolising how dreams are only temporary and do not last, like a fire.
At the start of the final section Steinbeck gives a description of the same clearing, however instead of the safe place it seemed to be in the first chapter; there is a predatory feel to the place. The previously gentle wind is now a sudden gush of wind; the green leaves are now brown and instead of rabbits playing there is a heron eating a snake. This sets the scene for Lennie’s death in the previously warm and inviting pool. When George describes the dream one last time to Lennie it is symbolic of him surrendering it. The sun leaving the valley could be demonstrating how all hope has been lost, darkness has overcome the light. Any hope George had of achieving the dream is lost and he is now just like all the other men; Lennie was the only thing he had to differentiate himself from everybody else. The inevitability of the sun leaving the sky could be illustrating how futile dreaming is. This idea is reinforced by the book starting in the same place. The circular narrative could be presenting the idea that life is not linear, but circular; that however close we come to reaching our dreams, we will end up in the same place as we started.
The water snake that ‘glided smoothly up the pool twisting its periscope head from side to side’ then is eaten by a…