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Of Mice and Men - Setting

This GCSE English Literature quiz takes a look at setting in Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. The location and the time in which the events of a text take place are two significant elements of a work’s setting. In addition to the events explicitly taking place in a novel, there will be events occurring in the background to which characters might allude. This wider fictional world is known as context and is also a key component of its setting (fictional context should not, of course, be confused with the author’s real-life context). Another important element of setting is atmosphere, which can change multiple times in a text, just as a text might include several different settings.

It is important to spend some time considering the setting of any text you study. The world in which the characters live impacts the decisions which they make over the course of the plot.

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The effect of political or social events on characters can usually be seen in their reported thoughts, behaviour and dialogue.

While John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men is rooted in a very specific time and place, Steinbeck aimed to remove features which would closely identify the story with a set of political developments. This creates the impression that the social conditions which rule the lives of the characters are somehow beyond time, existing long before the events of the novel take place, and showing no signs of a foreseeable end. Why might Steinbeck have wanted to dissociate his text from historical specificity in this way?

Geographical setting can include country or region, environment, the buildings or landscapes where events occur, and even the weather. Do all the events occur in the same place? Do characters travel, or arrive from elsewhere? How does the interaction of characters with their environment create meaning in the text?

It can also be useful to compare the time a text is set with when it was written. Do these times differ? Find out why an author might choose to set a text in the past, present or future. Does this change our understanding of the story?

Answer the questions below on setting in Of Mice and Men.

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  1. Of Mice and Men is set in which country?
    The novel is set in California, a state in which farming was heavily dependent on migrant labour
  2. The events in the novel take place near Soledad. What is the meaning of this name?
    "Soledad" is Spanish for "solitude" or "loneliness". Most of the characters are lonely, solitary figures, although temporarily in the company of one another. George and Lennie, who travel together, are unusual in their companionship
  3. When is the novel set?
    The novel takes place during the Great Depression which followed the Wall Street Crash of 1929. The problems of itinerant workers in California predated the Great Depression, however
  4. Where does the novel open?
    The pool is hidden from view, a peaceful place known to the itinerant workers who rest there on their way between one job and another
  5. The events on the ranch take place where?
    Although the men work outdoors and often play horseshoes outdoors, the action takes place in various interiors. These temporary homes contrast sharply with the dream home conjured by George's stories of the future
  6. Which one of the following is NOT represented by the ranch of Lennie's and George's dreams?
    Lennie and George expect to work hard on their own ranch, but always for themselves and always with the freedom to decide when and how they will work
  7. After Lennie kills Curley's wife, the barn is described as very still, and the light very "soft". What is the effect of this description?
    An atmosphere of profound stillness reigns over the barn until disturbed by Candy's terrible discovery of the dead woman's body
  8. The bunkhouse is the only place where the men are able to take some refuge on the ranch. What effect do Curley and his wife have on this environment?
    Although the men only seem to kill time in the bunkhouse through engaging in activities such as playing cards, their shared quarters represent their temporary home. The semi-restful environment of the bunkhouse is frequently disrupted by both Curley and his wife
  9. In the final chapter of the novel, we find the following description of the green pool along the Salinas River: "A far rush of wind sounded and a gust drove through the tops of the trees like a wave. The sycamore leaves turned up their silver sides, the brown, dry leaves on the ground scudded a few feet. And row on row of tiny wind waves flowed up the pool's green surface. As quickly as it had come, the wind died, and the clearing was quiet again." What is significant about the wind in this passage?
    The setting in the final chapter is the same as that of the opening chapter. The stillness and peace are disturbed by a wind more ominous than the "little wind" of the first chapter
  10. In the same passage, what might the dying of the wind represent? Choose the best answer.
    In this final setting, surface appearances are deceptively calm, while life and death struggles carry on almost unseen (as that for example between the still heron and the unsuspecting snakes it waits patiently to devour)

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