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Of Mice and Men - Extract 2

This GCSE English Literature quiz is the second of two extract questions for Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Curley’s wife discovers Lennie alone in the barn while the rest of the men are busily engaged in a horseshoe throwing tournament. Only these two characters are present and their quiet conversation leads quickly to the most devastating events in the novel. In a case of tragic irony, by choosing a time when she and Lennie were unlikely to be interrupted in the barn, Curley’s wife has no chance of being rescued from Lennie’s overwhelming strength. Pay close attention to the shifts in this passage, both characters change tone as they manage to evoke unexpected emotions in one another. Remember to read the passage through more than once before answering the questions. Consider how this passage relates to the themes of the novel. Which details are the most significant? Can you account for the language choices?

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What does the conversation tell us about each of these characters and their inner lives? And remember, it’s a good idea to practise several extract questions, so be sure to try the Extract 1 quiz, as well!

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. 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?

Pay very close attention to the exact question being asked. You might be asked to write about mood, atmosphere, or a particular character. You might 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. Think about how the passage relates to the themes of the text. Try to balance organisation, such as grouping related ideas together in your writing, with thoroughness, by being sure to discuss the entire passage. Above all, avoid writing about the first half of the passage in such detail that you run out of time to write about the second half!

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

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Curley’s wife came around the end of the last stall. She came very quietly, so that Lennie didn’t see her. She wore her bright cotton dress and the mules with the red ostrich feathers. Her face was made up and the little sausage curls were all in place. She was quite near to him before Lennie looked up and saw her.

In a panic, he shovelled hay over the puppy with his fingers. He looked sullenly at her.

She said, “What you got there, sonny boy?”

Lennie glared at her. “George says I ain’t to have nothing to do with you — talk to you or nothing.”

She laughed. “George giving you orders about everything?”

Lennie looked down at the hay. “Says I can’t tend no rabbits if I talk to you or anything.”

She said quietly. “He’s scared Curley’ll get mad. Well, Curley got his arm in a sling — an’ if Curley gets tough, you can break his other han’. You didn’t put nothing over on me about gettin’ it caught in no machine.”

But Lennie was not to be drawn. “No, sir. I ain’t gonna talk to you or nothing.”

She knelt in the hay beside him. “Listen,” she said. “All the guys got a horseshoe tenement goin’ on. It’s on’y about four o’clock. None of them guys is goin’ to leave that tenement. Why can’t I talk to you? I never get to talk to nobody. I get awful lonely.”

Lennie said, “Well, I ain’t supposed to talk to you or nothing.”

“I get lonely,” she said. “You can talk to people, but I can’t talk to nobody but Curley. Else he gets mad. How’d you like not to talk to anybody?”

Lennie said, “Well, I ain’t supposed to. George’s scared I’ll get in trouble.”

She changed the subject. “What you got covered up there?”

Then all of Lennie’s woe came back on him. “Jus’ my pup,” he said sadly. “Jus’ my little pup.” And he swept the hay from on top of it.

“Why, he’s dead,” she cried.

“He was so little,” said Lennie. “I was jus’ playin’ with him…an’ he made like he’s gonna bite me…an’ I made like I was gonna smack him…an’…an’ I done it. An’ then he was dead.”

She consoled him. “Don’t you worry none. He was jus’ a mutt. You can get another one easy. The whole country is fulla mutts.”

“It ain’t that so much,” Lennie explained miserably. “George ain’t gonna let me tend no rabbits now.”

“Why don’t he?”

“Well, he said if I done any more bad things he ain’t gonna let me tend the rabbits.”

She moved closer to him and she spoke soothingly. “Don’t you worry about talkin’ to me. Listen to the guys yell out there. They got four dollars bet in that tenement. None of them ain’t gonna leave till it’s over.”

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

  1. What is the immediate context of this passage?
    Lennie believes that George will not trust him with rabbits if he cannot be trusted with puppies. He is feeling sorry and ashamed when Curley's wife appears
  2. What immediately follows this excerpt?
    More even than her need to be admired, Curley's wife wants to be heard
  3. What is the significance of Curley's wife's choice of shoes?
    The shoes are attractive and frivolous and not appropriate footwear for walking around a ranch or in a barn. Curley's wife relies on her attractiveness to the men in order to gain attention and potential protection from Curley. She seeks out Lennie specifically after she realises he is responsible for Curley's crushed hand
  4. Lennie is determined to obey George so that he doesn't lose the chance to have rabbits. How does this passage demonstrate his determination?
    Lennie's desperate attempts to follow George's instructions and to avoid talking to Curley's wife heightens the tragedy of the events which follow
  5. What prompts Lennie eventually to respond more positively to Curley's wife?
    She doesn't yet know what he has covered up, but can see that it is significant to him
  6. Curley's wife is amused by Lennie's insistence on following George's orders. What does this tell us about her perception of Lennie?
    Another tragic aspect of this scene is that here Curley's wife first begins to perceive Lennie as he is, allowing her to let go of her initial flirtatious act and attempt to relieve her loneliness through a form of friendship instead
  7. Curley's wife attempts to create an atmosphere of intimacy with Lennie. Which of the following phrases alerts the reader to her attempts?
    Her attempt at intimacy is confirmed at the end of the passage where she moves even closer to Lennie and reminds him that the men are not likely to disturb them in the barn
  8. “Don’t you worry none. He was jus’ a mutt. You can get another one easy. The whole country is fulla mutts.” What does this phrase suggest about life on the ranch?
    "Mutts", like labourers, are easily replaceable. Some lives are more valuable than others in the view of many of the characters
  9. "The little sausage curls were all in place." What effect does the use of juxtaposition have in this line?
    "All in place" reminds the reader of the effort involved in Curley's wife's physical appearance. The contrast between her efforts to appear attractive and the actual effects she achieves make her appear rather ridiculous. Her sausage curls are designed (perhaps subconsciously) to appeal to the men's appetites
  10. Why does Lennie cover the puppy with hay?
    He believes that he can hide his misdeeds from George as simply as in the act of physically covering the puppy with hay. Later Curley's wife is discovered in the barn half hidden with hay

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