Of Mice and Men - Character

This GCSE English Literature quiz takes a look at character in Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.

John Steinbeck’s novel, Of Mice and Men, is populated with very few characters. These are friends George and Lennie, Curley, Slim, Candy, Crooks, Carlson and Curley’s wife, with only one or two other figures being given names. George and Lennie travel for work while the remainder of the characters are more settled and are attached to the ranch. The arrival of the two friends brings disaster both to their friendship and to lives on the ranch. George and Lennie’s unlikely friendship draws attention, highlighting the crushing loneliness felt by most of the other characters, even where that loneliness is barely acknowledged, such as by Slim. By innocently sharing his dream with Candy and with Crooks, Lennie encourages the other men on the ranch to begin to hope for a better, more companionable future.

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These hopes are irrevocably smashed by the encounter between Curley’s lonely wife and Lennie, who is incapable of controlling his own strength and whose greatest fear is disappointing George.

We understand a character through their speech, their actions, and through narratorial descriptions. Of Mice and Men has an omniscient, third-person narrator. The narrator refrains, however, from making any statements about how characters feel, instead showing characters’ emotions to the reader through describing only what can be externally observed in their speech and behaviour. This technique makes the characters appear simultaneously easy to understand and yet fundamentally mysterious and unknowable. Like the characters, the reader must slowly come to appreciate Lennie’s uniqueness and to empathise with George’s sense of responsibility and occasional frustration with his travelling companion.

Answer the questions below to see how well you understand the characters in this novel.

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  1. Curley's wife tells Lennie that she could have been in the movies. Which of the following statements is true of her character?
    Curley's wife, like Lennie, dreams of leading a different life. Her dreams are much grander and more self-centred than his, however
  2. "His hands, large and lean, were as delicate in their action as those of a temple dancer." What does this physical description tell the reader about Slim?
    Slim's skill makes him one of the most valued workers on the ranch. His physical skill is matched by his subtle intelligence and natural authority
  3. Which of the following best describes Crooks?
    Crooks is proud of his proper upbringing and respectability and is resentful of being excluded through the racist attitudes of others. This combination of traits makes him rather prickly when Lennie invades his private space, even though the company relieves his loneliness
  4. Candy is eager to join in with Lennie and George's plan to buy land. Why?
    Candy's offer of his savings, mostly gained through compensation for the accidental loss of his hand, makes the dream of owning land a sudden possibility
  5. In the opening chapter of the book, George asks Lenny what he has taken from his pocket. What does the reader learn about Lennie's character from the following response to George's question: "'Ain't a thing in my pocket,' Lennie said cleverly"?
    Lennie's "clever" response is an indication of his childlike nature. He believes that by technically telling the truth he can persuade George that he doesn't have anything he shouldn't have. George, of course, sees through this childlike trick, responding, "I know there ain't. You got it in your hand."
  6. Why is it significant that Curley's wife is not given a name?
    Curley's wife is limited to her domestic role and her relationship to her husband. Although she is lonely, the men on the ranch are wary of befriending her. Their wariness is reinforced through referring to her only in relation to her husband
  7. Which of the following traits gets Lennie into trouble?
    Lennie's love of stroking soft things like fur, certain fabrics and hair, combined with his great strength, lead him to hurt Curley's wife by accident. His fear of disappointing George makes him try to silence her when she screams
  8. Which of the following adjectives does NOT accurately describe George as he is characterised throughout the novel?
    George is hopeful rather than despairing. His final act towards Lennie stems from his pragmatic and realistic understanding of his friend's certain death at the hands of Curley
  9. George admits to Slim that he has not always been a good friend to Lennie. What does this episode tell the reader about George's character?
    George is ashamed when Lennie thanks him for saving him from drowning, even though he was only in danger of drowning due to following George's instructions. When George confesses this episode to Slim, it becomes apparent that he relies on Lennie's friendship as much as Lennie relies upon him
  10. Curley is introduced as having a "pugnacious" glance. Which of the following details does NOT emphasise this description?
    Curley's choice of boots hints that he wishes to appear taller than he is. This description gives the reader a clue about one reason behind Curley's pugnacious behaviour

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