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Of Mice and Men - Extract 1

This GCSE English Literature quiz is the first of two extract questions for Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. It takes place towards the beginning of the novel, when George and Lennie have stopped for the night on the way to a new place of work. George is responsible for most of the dialogue in the passage. Despite the infrequency of his own speech here, certain aspects of Lennie’s character quickly become apparent to the reader. This section also introduces the source of George’s conflicted feelings towards his friend. Read the passage through at least twice before tackling the questions. In answering the questions below, pay close attention to the text while also bearing in mind the wider issues of the novel as a whole.

How to answer an extract question in an exam:

When answering an extract question in an exam be sure to read the passage through more than once as you consider your response.

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The first time you can aim for a broad understanding of the passage and how you might use it to answer the questions. On the second reading you can begin noting details and making annotations. It can be useful to ask yourself why the specific passage has been chosen. How does it relate to the rest of the text? Pay attention to its place in the structure of the text. Are any significant characters or significant themes introduced? What happens afterwards? Does anything in the passage foreshadow later events? What changes? Also consider the ending of the extract: why do you think it ends where it does instead of somewhere else? What is significant about the final line?

Think carefully about what the question asks. You might be asked to write about the mood and atmosphere of the extract, or perhaps a particular character. Sometimes you will be asked to discuss dialogue, behaviour or feelings. Always explain the passage’s immediate context: what events precede the extract? Pay close attention to the detail, to setting and characterisation. Consider the relationship between the excerpt and the themes of the text. Group related ideas together in your answer, but be sure to discuss the entire passage. Remember to leave enough time to write about the whole passage rather than covering one section in detail while neglecting the remainder of the extract!

Read the extract from John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men below carefully before answering the questions.

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Lennie went behind the tree and brought out a litter of dried leaves and twigs. He threw them in a heap on the old ash pile and went back for more and more. It was almost night now. A dove’s wings whistled over the water. George walked to the fire pile and lighted the dry leaves. The flame cracked up among the twigs and fell to work. George undid his bindle and brought out three cans of beans. He stood them about the fire, close in against the blaze, but not quite touching the flame.

“There’s enough beans for four men,” George said.

Lennie watched him from over the fire. He said patiently, “I like ‘em with ketchup.”

“Well, we ain’t got any,” George exploded. “Whatever we ain’t got, that’s what you want. God a’mighty, if I was alone I could live so easy. I could go get a job an’ work, an’ no trouble. No mess at all, and when the end of the month come I could take my fifty bucks and go into town and get whatever I want. Why, I could stay in a cat house all night. I could eat any place I want, hotel or any place, and order any damn thing I could think of. An’ I could do all that every damn month. Get a gallon of whisky, or set in a pool room and play cards or shoot pool.” Lennie knelt and looked over the fire at the angry George. And Lennie’s face was drawn with terror. “An’ whatta I got,” George went on furiously. “I got you! You can’t keep a job and you lose me ever’ job I get. Jus’ keep me shoving’ all over the country all the time. An’ that ain’t the worst. You get in trouble. You do bad things and I got to get you out.” His voice rose nearly to a shout. “You crazy son-of-a-bitch. You keep me in hot water all the time.” He took on the elaborate manner of little girls when they are mimicking one another. “Jus’ wanted to feel that girl’s dress — jus’ wanted to pet it like it was a mouse — Well, how the hell did she know you jus’ wanted to feel her dress? She jerks back and you hold on like it was a mouse. She yells and we got to hide in a irrigation ditch all day with guys lookin’ for us, and we got to sneak out in the dark and get outta the country. All the time somethin’ like that — all the time. I wisht I could put you in a cage with about a million mice an’ let you have fun.” His anger left him suddenly. He looked across the fire at Lennie’s anguished face, and then he looked ashamedly at the flames.

It was quite dark now, but the fire lighted the trunks of the trees and the curving branches overhead. Lennie crawled slowly and cautiously around the fire until he was close to George. He sat back on his heels. George turned the bean cans so that another side faced the fire. He pretended to be unaware of Lennie so close beside him.

“George,” very softly. No answer. “George!”

“Whatta you want?”

“I was only foolin’, George. I don’t want no ketchup.”

John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men (Penguin, 1994)

  1. What is the immediate context for this passage?
    This passage is taken from the first chapter. The men have decided to sleep near the pool for the night before heading to the ranch where they will work
  2. What immediately follows this passage?
    This is where the reader first learns of the dream of owning land which motivates the two casual labourers. George is persuaded to talk about the dream just after Lennie threatens to live by himself if George continues to be angry with him
  3. Which phrase demonstrates Lennie's physical capacity for endurance?
    Lennie is strong, patient and a hard worker. Here the reader sees him patiently fetching firewood, returning repeatedly for more loads without complaint
  4. What does the reader learn about George in this passage?
    George's feelings towards Lennie are complex. Despite his complaints, however, he needs the company of the other man, too
  5. Why does Lennie's wish for ketchup cause George to explode?
    Lennie's innocent wish for ketchup is childlike. He expects George to feed and care for him without seeming to be grateful for George's kindness in doing so
  6. George explodes, speaks furiously and nearly shouts. At what point does his manner towards Lennie change?
    His melodramatic wish to keep Lennie in a cage with a "million" mice makes him suddenly aware of his friend again. The sight of Lennie's face makes George feel ashamed
  7. How does the reader know that Lennie does not want George to be angry with him? Choose the best answer.
    Lennie's terrified and anguished face results not from his own actions, but from the fear of his beloved George being angry with him. Lennie almost believes that mistakes can be rectified by changing the past. Saying that he was joking is an example of this belief
  8. After George's outburst, how does the atmosphere change?
    The quietness of the two men, the branch curving over the fire, Lennie's careful movement and George's ignoring of him all contribute to an atmosphere of stillness
  9. What does the manner of Lennie's approach to George tell the reader?
    George probably expresses his anger with Lennie frequently, but Lennie trusts that the anger dissipates quickly. Lennie ignores the gruff response he gets from George
  10. Lennie's encounter with the girl provides an example of which of the following?
    Although the event in the barn follows the same sequence as that in Weed, the consequences for Curley's wife are worse and are likely to have come about through Lennie's memory of this earlier encounter with a frightened woman

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