The following analytical paper topics are designed to test your understanding of this novel as a whole and to analyze important themes and literary devices. Following each question is a sample outline to help you get started.
Loneliness is a dominant theme in Of Mice and Men. Most of the characters are lonely and searching for someone who can serve as a companion or just as an audience. Discuss the examples of character loneliness, the efforts of the characters in search of companionship, and their varying degrees of success.
I. Thesis statement: In his novel Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck depicts the essential loneliness of California ranch life in the 1930s. He illustrates how people are driven to find companionship.
II. Absence of character names
A. The Boss
B. Curley’s wife
III. George and Lennie
A. Consider each other family
B. Lennie described as a kind of pet
C. George’s philosophy about workers who travel alone
D. The Godlike Slim as George’s audience
A. Candy’s attachment to his dog
B. The death of his dog
C. His request to join George and Lennie
D. His need to share his thoughts with Lennie
A. Isolated by his skin color
B. His eagerness for company
C. His desire to share the dream of the farm
VI. Curley’s wife
A. Flirting with the workers
B. Talking to Crooks, Candy, and Lennie in the barn
C. Persuading Lennie to listen to her
VII. The hope and power when people have companions
A. George and Lennie
VIII. The misery of each when companionship is removed
The novel Of Mice and Men is written using the same structure as a drama, and meets many of the criteria for a tragedy. Examine the novel as a play. What conventions of drama does it already have? Does it fit the definition of a tragedy?
I. Thesis statement: Steinbeck designed his novel Of Mice and Men as a drama, more specifically, a tragedy.
II. The novel can be divided into three acts of two chapters (scenes)
A. First act introduces characters and background
B. Second act develops conflicts
C. Third act brings resolution
III. Settings are simple for staging
IV. Most of the novel can be transferred into either dialogue or stage directions
A. Each chapter opens with extensive detail to setting
B. Characters are described primarily in physical terms
V. The novel fits the definition of tragedy
A. The protagonist is an extraordinary person who meets with misery
B. The story celebrates courage in the face of defeat
C. The plot ends in an unhappy catastrophe that could not be avoided
There are many realistic and naturalistic details in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.
Discuss how Steinbeck is sympathetic and dispassionate about life through the presentation of realism and naturalism.
I. Thesis Statement: Steinbeck displays a sympathetic and a dispassionate attitude toward man’s and nature’s condition through the use of realistic and naturalistic details.
II. Realism—things as they are
A. Setting of chapter one
B. Description of the bunk house
C. Dialect and slang of the characters
D. Dress and habits of the characters
E. Death as a natural part of life
III. Naturalism—fate at work
A. Animal imagery to describe people
2. Curley’s wife
B. Lower class characters
C. Place names
1. Light and dark
2. Dead mouse and pup
3. Lennie’s desire to leave the ranch
4. Candy’s crippled dog
5. Solitaire card game
E. Symbolism in the last chapter
1. Heron and snake
2. Gust of wind
3. Slim’s comment
The story of George and Lennie lends itself to issues found in the question: Am I my brother’s keeper? Does man have an obligation to take care of his fellow man, and what is the price that must be paid if the answer is “yes” or if the answer is “no”?
I. Thesis Statement: Steinbeck shows that there is a great price to be paid for not being sensitive to the needs of others as well as for taking care of others.
II. The vulnerable ones
III. The heartless ones
A. The boss
C. Curley’s wife
IV. The insensitive one—Carlson
V. The sensitive ones
The American Dream is for every man to have a place of his own, to work and earn a position of respect, to become whatever his will and determination and hard work can make him. In Of Mice and Men the land becomes a talisman, a hope of better things. Discuss the American Dream as presented in the novel.
I. Thesis Statement: For the characters in this novel, the American Dream remains an unfulfilled dream.
II. The dream
A. Owning a home
B. Enjoying freedom to choose
C. Living off the fat of the land
D. Not having to work so hard
E. Having security in old age or sickness
III. The dream’s unrealistic aspects
A. Too good to be true
B. A pipe dream for bindle stiffs
C. Lack of money
IV. George and Lennie’s attitude toward the dream
A. Was a comfort in time of trouble
B. Did not really believe in the dream
V. Crooks’s attitude toward the dream
A. His belief
B. His disappointment
VI. Candy’s attitude toward the dream
A. His belief
B. His money
C. His disappointment at the end
Pre-Reading Activities | Ongoing Activities | Cumulative Activities | General Activities
Even though some of the controversial issues in Of Mice and Men may not seem as controversial today as they were in the 1930s, students still need to be prepared for what they will encounter in the classroom.
Of Mice and Men Introduction
Through a brief PowerPoint presentation, students will be introduced to John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men, its characters, the setting, and the contextual background, including the Great Depression.
Controversial Issues – Jim Crow and Lynch Law Introduction
A PowerPoint introduction to lingering racist attitudes in the United States since the Civil War, especially relating to the treatment of Crooks.
Migrant Workers and the Great Depression – Leaving Home
This activity is meant to expand students’ analytical skills and to give them a greater understanding of life during the Great Depression. The experiences that they will read about are those of teenagers during the 1930s. Like George and Lennie, these teenagers are on the move finding temporary work where they can.
Migrant Workers and the Great Depression – Why California?
Several hundred thousand people fled North and West during the 1930s. Yet these regions were not immune from the effects of the Depression. Why then did so many people uproot their lives and head to California and the West? Using first hand accounts archived in the Library of Congress, students will attempt to help answer this question.
Understanding ranch life in the 1920s/1930s and the migrant ranch experience from that period, and today, are essential for understanding the novel.
Plot and Theme
Plot and theme are often easily confused. This activity challenges students to create and act out their own skits that demonstrate the differences between plot and theme.
Riding the Rails
This activity incorporates the PBS American Experience documentary “Riding the Rails.” Students will see, hear, and read about life riding the rails and looking for work in the 1930s. The experiences that they will see and read about are those of teenagers during the 1930s. Like George and Lennie, these teenagers are on the move finding temporary work where they can.
Steinbeck’s novels are rich with symbolism, and Of Mice and Men is no exception. It is important that students are able to distinguish between literal and figurative concepts. This activity helps students to understand symbols, and to track the use and meaning of symbols throughout Of Mice and Men.
The American Dream
The “American Dream” is a constant theme in Of Mice and Men. This concept is important to understanding the novel and the motivation of the characters. In this activity, students will reflect upon the meaning of the “American Dream,” what it meant during the 1930s, to George and Lennie, and to themselves.
Of Mice and Men Discussion by Section
A section by section breakdown of the major events, themes, and discussion topics. This is a rich source of information to help frame an entire unit plan for Of Mice and Men.
This activity helps students to understand characters and their motivations through the use of a graphic organizer.
This activity helps students to understand characters and their motivations through the use of a graphic organizer.
Character Webs are graphic organizers that help students to gain a deeper understanding of the characters. The purpose of a Character Web is to show the connections between characters. Character Webs can also be done autobiographically; that is, a student can create a web about him/herself.
Character Reactions – Crooks's Quarters
Students tackle issues of race and gender in this activity centered around the scene in Crooks’s quarters. Students work together to create internal monologues for the characters present, challenging the student to consider issues of race and gender, but in the context of the 1930s.
This activity creates a “message board” where students can post and comment upon important, entertaining, and interesting passages from Of Mice and Men. The message board can be displayed in class and expanded as reading through the novel continues.
A great way for students to get to know the characters in Of Mice and Men is for them to actually inhabit the personalities of those characters. In this activity, students are challenged to use what they have learned about the characters to script and perform an interview with the character.
A rich resource to help build students’ knowledge and understanding of the literary elements present in Of Mice and Men. This guide includes a comprehensive list of literary terms, their definitions, and examples of their usage as found in the novel.
This activity provides a list of slang terms used in Of Mice and Men as well as an interactive, student driven, “word wall” to help students understand the new vocabulary encountered in their readings.
To increase the level and complexity of students’ writing, students can improve their sentence fluency by emulating the sentence structure of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and those of their classmates. This can work with all levels of students’ writing abilities. Essentially, students will learn to “paint” with words and create powerful sentences.
Correcting the Grammar of Others
Besides students’ usual grammar exercises in English class, they can learn literature-based ways to enhance their grammar capabilities. One of the best ways to complement grammar study in the classroom is to correct the errant grammar of characters in novels. Obviously, Of Mice and Men reflected the language and vernacular of mostly under-educated migrant/ranch workers in the 1930s; as a result, the novel is rich in non-standard language. Finding examples to “correct” will be plentiful. Includes an optional “grammar walk” where students seek out and correct grammatical errors outside of the classroom.
This is a fun and creative activity during any time of the year, but teachers can apply this specifically to Of Mice and Men. Through spontaneous poetry, students will learn more about Of Mice and Men.
Music is important to any generation; in the 1930s, people listened to not only big band music, but folk music, including Woody Guthrie. John Steinbeck was a fan of Woody Guthrie, and vice versa. Understanding the rich connection between period music (using lyric sheets as well as listening) of the 1930s and Of Mice and Men is an important complement.
Adapting Scenes from the Book to a Play
Of Mice and Men has a natural dramatic structure and is perfect for an adaptation to the stage (after all, Steinbeck himself wrote a successful version for the stage). In this activity, students will choose scenes from the novel to adapt into a short, dramatic reproduction.
Brochures, Posters, Illustrations
This is a fun activity, especially for those students who are not yet proficient in writing. Students can graphically “speak” about Of Mice and Men by creating brochures, posters, and other illustrations about the novel.
Eulogies are powerful, and should be taken seriously, even though they may contain some elements of humor. This exercise can provide students with empathy, sympathy, and a greater understanding, during any point in the novel, of the characters and situations surrounding death.
Lynchings were illegal acts of vigilante “justice” that have been a part of United States history since the Colonial Period. The theme of lynching appears several times during Of Mice and Men, and is integral to understanding the conclusion of the novel. In this activity, students examine the lynching of Emmett Till to better understand the state of race relations prior to the major accomplishments of the Civil Rights Movement.
Mining for Examples
In this ongoing activity, students work collaboratively to create an in-depth study guide to understanding key scenes, quotations, and themes in Of Mice and Men. Includes a sample project created by students examining some of their favorite scenes.
This activity provides additional structure and guidance to that found in “Mining for Examples.” Students create their own study guide for the novel.
Short Writing Prompts
An in-depth, section by section breakdown of short writing prompts for use in journal assignments, assessments, and discussion starters.
Jeopardy Interactive Review Game
An interactive PowerPoint game modeled on the popular quiz show. A fun way to review.
In this activity, students create radio play adaptations of scenes from Of Mice and Men. This activity can be done simply as live, unseen performances (behind a room divider or curtain). Or, for teachers with access to some basic recording equipment, the radio plays can be recorded, edited, and turned into a podcast.
Placing Characters on Trial
This activity works well for many books, but it especially lends itself to Of Mice and Men because there are so many “alleged” crimes committed during the course of the novel. The classroom will be converted into a courtroom (as elaborate or simple as time permits). Students will begin to understand the legal system and its implications.
Passport to Literacy
Passport to Literacy is a cross-curricular project that examines life on a farm in the 1930s and today. The project, originally done using The Red Pony, has been here adapted for use with Of Mice and Men. Language Arts, History, Science, Math, Entrepreneurship, and Art are all components built into this project.
Critical Analysis Essay
This essay assignment is a major step in developing the students’ critical analysis abilities. It can be modified per grade level/ability, and is a perfect introduction to scholarly papers.
A fun way to expose interested students to more of the writings of John Steinbeck.
Analyzing documents of any kind is a skill that will aid students in multiple subject areas. This activity provides a structure that students of all abilities can utilize to build their analytical skills.
The Jigsaw method is a way to help students understand and retain more information by working collaboratively with classmates. Students work in small groups to analyze and dissect a reading, then report back to the class. This collaborative method aids students in understanding material that at first seems complex and dense with new facts and information.
A four-corners debate requires students to show their position on a specific statement (strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree) by standing in a particular corner of the room (signs will be posted) or by responding to four choices to one question. This activity gets everyone involved and requires full participation by taking a position.
The Final-Final is designed to reinforce feedback on student writing. Too many times students ignore or forget the feedback given to them on their writing assignments. The Final-Final requires students to take action on that feedback and to resubmit their work for a last round of teacher feedback.