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How is the opening chapter of “Of Mice and Men” important to the rest of the novella? Free essay! Download now

Home > GCSE > English literature > How is the opening chapter of “Of Mice and Men” important to the rest of the novella?

How is the opening chapter of “Of Mice and Men” important to the rest of the novella?

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Downloads to date: N/A | Words: 1800 | Submitted: 18-Mar-2009
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"Of Mice and Men" essay, addressing the characters off George and Lennie and some of the novel's themes (through studying chapter one)


The first reason why the first chapter is important is that it establishes the characters of the novella’s main protagonists, George and Lennie. We also find out a lot about their relationship, the work they do, the reasons why they travel together and some details of their history. George and Lennie are the only two characters who appear in this chapter, meaning that we can focus on them very closely before we meet the other characters in Chapter 2. Here are some of the things that we learn.

From the very first description we can tell from their physical appearance alone their levels of intelligence. George’s “sharp, strong features” and his “restless eyes” (page 19) suggest intelligence and a kind of wariness. On the other hand, Lennie’s “shapeless … face” and his heavy walk suggest mental slowness. Interestingly, Steinbeck compares Lennie almost immediately to a bear (“the way a bear drags its paws”). Lennie is repeatedly compared to animals. He is like a “horse” when he drinks from the pool; he is like a “terrier” when he doesn’t want to return his mouse to George, and George talks of how “somebody’d shoot you for a coyote” if Lennie ran off into the hills. The bear comparison is useful because it puts across Lennie’s big physique and lumbering, clumsy movements. However, by comparing Lennie to animals, Steinbeck is also subtly preparing us for Lennie’s actions later in the novella: like a bear, Lennie poses a danger to other creatures (he kills mice, he kills his pup, he breaks every bone in Curley’s hand and, ultimately, he kills a woman); like any animal, Lennie only acts on instinct: he hasn’t the intelligence to work out the best course of action to take in a given situation; he can only respond to his emotions and instincts (fear being the main one) – this is very animal-like.

Their relationship is well-established in Chapter 1. We learn to understand why it is that a “smart little guy” like George travels round with Lennie well before Slim asks him that question in Chapter 3 because of what are told in Chapter One. George talks about Lennie’s Aunt Clara (his former guardian, now dead) “wouldn’t like you running off by yourself” and we see that George feels a sense of duty towards Lennie based on a long-term relationship.

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