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Of Mice and Men - Themes

This GCSE English Literature quiz focusses on themes in Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Theme in a work of literature ranges from the obvious to the very subtle. Some themes are dominant while others might be easy to miss and often the various themes engage with and impact upon one another. Theme connects setting, character, plot and dialogue and is communicated through the concepts and ideas which arise in different parts of the text, being voiced in different ways by different characters. Pay attention to these related ideas in order to follow the development of a theme over the course of a text. When writing about themes, check whether your initial thoughts match those you have at the end of a work. Have your ideas changed? If so, see if you can analyse exactly when and where your views on a key theme began to change.

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The themes of the text provide the means with which the author communicates meaning to readers. Ideas and issues raised in the text may prompt readers to reconsider their own beliefs or ways of looking at the world. If a text makes you think, the author has successfully encouraged you to engage with one or more of its themes. Your views might be similar to those of other readers or you might find that you disagree strongly with other readers (or even your teacher). This is because your response to a text will be deeply personal, which is inevitable when you bring your own thoughts, beliefs and experiences into consideration of the text.

Of Mice and Men deals with themes of friendship, loneliness, longing, powerlessness, belonging and hoping. These themes are interrelated and touch upon the lives of each character in different ways. Although most of these themes are easily apparent, look out for subtlety and subtext in the novel. First impressions of an episode or a character might not tell the full truth.

Read the questions below and test your knowledge on the themes of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.

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  1. The name of the nearby town, Soledad, is most closely related to which of the following themes?
    The mention of Soledad (Spanish for loneliness or solitude) in the first line of the novel leads the reader into a story where every character is weighed down with his or her solitude in the world. The friendship between Lennie and George is a bulwark against this heart-wrenching loneliness
  2. What are George and Lennie denied in their lives as migrant labourers but hope to gain in their shared dream?
    Owning land means that the two men will no longer be dependent on the whims of others. The two men already have friendship and the thought of romantic love never intrudes on their dream of owning land
  3. Who represents an authentic form of authority?
    Slim's authority derives from his skill at his work in addition to his thoughtful, considered manner
  4. How does the killing of Lennie differ from the vigilante violence planned for him by Curley?
    Although the killing is still violent and shocking, George acts out of compassion, wishing to protect Lennie from whatever violence Curley and the other men would inflict on him
  5. Hope in the novel is powerful enough to overcome cynicism. Which character reluctantly allows his hope to overpower his doubts?
    Crooks cynically dismisses the dream of owning land until he is shown how close it is to becoming a reality, at which point he suddenly shares his own hopes and dreams
  6. The theme of friendship is best exemplified by the relationship between which characters?
    Friendship is so rare and valuable in the novel that the relationship between Lennie and George draws comments. Each of the two men fears losing the other
  7. Which one of the following is NOT related to the theme of belonging?
    Several systems of exclusion work together to keep people separate from one another, reinforcing both the injustice and the loneliness at the heart of the novel
  8. What theme is shared in common by Lennie's crushing of Curley's hand, the episode in Weed, and the hunt for Lennie at the end of the novel?
    The ranch seems far from the rule of law and the men share a sense of how particular behaviours should or should not be punished. Because Curley provokes the fight with Lennie, the other men force him to accept their fabricated version of the story. This type of justice has a much darker side when groups of men seek Lennie in order to get revenge, as in Weed and at the end of the novel
  9. Before he hears about Lennie's and George's dream, Candy can only foresee leaving the ranch as a form of loss. What does he fear losing?
    Candy knows he will have to leave the ranch when he is too old and physically unable to undertake any work
  10. Which theme comes to the forefront during Lennie's discussion with Curley's wife in the barn?
    Their hopes, loneliness and underlying innocence bring the two characters together for a few brief moments in the barn

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