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
Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements for “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in the text and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of “Of Mice and Men” in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: The Needs Served by Relationships
All human beings develop relationships with others because those relationships fill particular needs. Those needs may be physical, economic, psychological, or social. Analyze the complex relationship between George and his mentally compromised friend, Lennie. Write an essay in which you explain the needs of each character that are fulfilled by the other. Be sure to examine all of the areas of need identified above. Once you have done this, render a judgment about whether George is exploiting Lennie, and if so, whether you think Lennie minds this exploitation. Be sure to cite evidence from the text in this argumentative essay on “Of Mice and Men”Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: Steinbeck as Social Activist
Many of Steinbeck’s novels address facets of social problems that impact the marginalized people of society in profound ways. There are many social problems that are explored in this novel, including the treatment and perception of people who are poor, people who are mentally challenged, and African Americans. Examine Steinbeck’s treatment of these social problems, and consider whether he presents them as equivalent. In other words, are all marginalized people in the same boat? Consider the characteristics of these marginalized groups as they are presented in the novel and compare and contrast their conditions.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: The Theme of Anxiety
Many of the major and minor characters in Of Mice and Men are suffering from persistent anxiety. Most of the characters are marginalized and the grinding poverty and frustration that they experience keeps them in a state of constant anticipation, followed by crushing disappointment. Write an essay in which you use theories from psychology and psychoanalysis to explain what anxiety is, how it affects these characters, and how it limits their possibilities to overcome some of the internal barriers that they erect against themselves, as well as the external conditions that restrict them.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: The Role of Minor Characters in “Of Mice and Men”
Lennie and George are the two main characters in Of Mice and Men, but there is a cast of “minor" characters as well. These characters include Candy, Curley, Crooks, and Slim. The very names of these characters allude to characteristics that serve to reflect or refract the psychological profiles and relationships of Lennie and George. Using one or more of these “minor" characters, explain their significance to the overall content and theme of the novel. Be sure to note the characteristics that these minor characters share with Lennie and George (namely, loneliness), but characteristics that may differ, too.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #5: Profound Loneliness
The pervasive emotion experienced by all of the characters in Of Mice and Men is loneliness (see quotes, below). The loneliness is, on the one hand, real- none of the men wants to be alone. The loneliness is also, though, profoundly existential and symbolic. The men do not want to be alone with themselves, and they do not want to be left behind by society. Write an analytic essay in which you evaluate these various levels of loneliness. Go beneath the superficial sense of loneliness, and mine the deeper meanings. Conclude with a statement of your belief about what Steinbeck wished to convey about the nature of human relationships.
This list of important quotations from “Of Mice and Men” will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from “Of Mice and Men” listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the text by John Steinbeck they are referring to.
“Whatever we ain't got, that's what you want." (11)
“Well, I never seen one guy take so much trouble for another guy. I just like to know what your interest is.” (25)
“Say it over to yourself, Lennie, so you won’t forget it." (29)
“I ain't got no people…. 'Course Lennie's a God damn nuisance most of the time, but you get used to goin' around with a guy an' you can't get rid of him.” (45)
“Books ain't no good. A guy needs somebody-to be near him. A guy goes nuts if he ain't got nobody. Don't make no difference who the guy is, long's he's with you. I tell ya, I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an' he gets sick.” (80)
“I seen hunderds of men come by on the road an' on the ranches, with their bindles on their back an' that same damn thing in their heads. Hunderds of them. They come, an' they quit an' go on; an' every damn one of 'em's got a little piece of land in his head. An' never a God damn one of 'em ever gets it. Just like heaven. Everybody wants a little piece of lan'. I read plenty of books out here. Nobody never gets to heaven, and nobody gets no land. It's just in their head. They're all the time talkin' about it, but it's jus' in their head.” (81)
“You ain’t gonna leave me, are ya’ George? I know you ain’t!" (98)
“‘I done another bad thing.’ ‘It don’t make no difference.’" (98)
“I think I knowed from the very first. I think I knowed we'd never do her. He usta like to hear about it so much I got to thinking maybe we would.” (103)
“Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don't belong no place. . . . With us it ain't like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us. We don't have to sit in no bar room blowin' in our jack jus' because we got no place else to go. If them other guys gets in jail they can rot for all anybody gives a damn. But not us." ( 121 )
Reference: Steinbeck. John. Of Mice and Men. New York: Penguin, 2002.