Page 32. " George stared at his solitaire lay "
Solitaire (Klondike) on the computer
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeSolitaire (Klondike) on the computer - Credit: Robert Jorgenson on Flickr

 Solitaire is the term for a table-top game that can be played by a single player. Most commonly it refers to a card game in which cards are placed into a ‘lay’ according to specific rules – reds on blacks and blacks on reds, in descending numerical order. Cards can be removed and placed into separate piles as long as they are the next card in the suit. The aim is to sort cards into suits, ascending from ace to King. The proper name for this card game is Patience; this specific version is called Klondike.

 

Of course, the word 'solitaire' is another reference to the theme of loneliness running through the story.

 

Play klondike online for free here. (free game site, no gambling)

Page 33. " The sound of the approaching grain teams was louder, thud of big hooves on hard ground, drag of brakes and the jingle of trace chains. "

The grain from the barley plant is used for animal food and malt-making.

The trace chains are part of the harness that attaches the wagon to the animals pulling it.

Page 34. " She wore a cotton housedress and red mules "
Woman's dress, 1935
Public DomainWoman's dress, 1935 - Credit: Jeanne Boleyn on Wikimedia Commons

In the 1930s, women’s fashion favoured a longer skirt and a more traditional waistline than 1920s fashion. Wide shoulders and narrow waists became popular. In more conservative parts of the United States, the more progressive fashions of recent years were frowned on, and ordinary women were expected to wear much simpler outfits than those seen in the movies.

 

Woman's housedress, 1936
Public DomainWoman's housedress, 1936 - Credit: Wikimedia Commons

A housedress is made with simple lines and practical fabric, designed for housework and for wearing around the house.

Click here for a picture of a 1930s housedress on Etsy.

 

Page 35. " Jesus, what a tramp "
1930s advert for cereal
Public Domain1930s advert for cereal - Credit: Methodshop

During the 1930s, sexist attitudes were prevalent and women were primarily confined to domestic roles. Although the 1920s had been a significant time for women’s rights and changing attitudes (women were given the vote across the USA in 1920 with the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment), the Great Depression saw a widespread shift back to more traditional views. Working women were considered greedy (taking work from men at a time when jobs were scarce) and distasteful (their role should be in the home looking after their families). Women were still campaigning for equal rights in the workplace and elsewhere, but the issue was largely ignored in magazines and newspapers, and still met significant opposition in government.

 

Common views held that women should stay in the home, and should remain demure and chaste and ladylike. A woman who was considered to flirt too much, show too much skin, or who liked make-up and fancy clothes a little too much, would be branded a tramp, particularly in rural areas. This attitude can be seen throughout Of Mice and Men in the ways in which the male characters talk about Curley’s wife. They repeatedly use derogatory language when referring to her (“bitch”, “tramp”, “tart”, etc), and criticise her for leaving her house and for talking to the men. If a man does something bad as a result of her ‘flirting’, they would consider this her fault (“jail bait”).

 

John Steinbeck’s own attitudes to women are a little harder to define. Later in the novel he suggests that society’s treatment of women creates the same kind of loneliness that arises from the segregation of black people, and he does show some sympathy for Curley’s wife. However, the lack of any female characters in roles other than care-takers of men or prostitutes, the repeated idea that the men’s downfall is caused by a woman’s sexuality, and the fact that Curley’s wife is never even named, do suggest sexist attitudes. Was Steinbeck using these elements to deliberately highlight and condemn such attitudes, or did he share these attitudes himself? Either way, it is clear that there is simply no place for women in this book’s idealised vision of a paradise built on male comradeship.

 

Curley’s wife is such a complex character that modern readers find it hard to agree on what, exactly, Steinbeck was trying to convey. Here are two examples of very different readings of the character:

Is Steinbeck trying to show that “even the worst of us can have our humanity”?

Or is Curley’s wife portrayed not as a villain, but rather as a victim”?

 

Read more about feminism and sexism in 1930s America here – 1930s America, Feminist Void?

Page 36. " I bet he's eatin' raw eggs and writin' to the patent medicine houses "
Raw egg
Creative Commons AttributionRaw egg - Credit: Steve Johnson on Flickr

Raw eggs are a folk remedy for increasing virility (sexual prowess), and patent medicine houses sold "medicine" to do the same.

Page 37. " For two bits I’d shove out of here "

A ‘bit’ refers to a unit of money, in the USA to 1/8th of a dollar. ‘Two bits’ is therefore a quarter of a dollar.

There is no actual coin or paper money that represents a bit, but the expression has remained in usage from the days when there was.

Page 37. " If we can get jus’ a few dollars in the poke we’ll shove off and go up the American River and pan gold. We can make maybe a couple of dollars a day there, and we might hit a pocket. "
Panning for Gold
Public DomainPanning for Gold - Credit: Harper's Weekly on Wikimedia Commons

The American River is a river in California that runs from the Sierra Nevada mountains to the Sacramento River. In the 19th century gold was discovered in the Sierra Nevada mountain range; it would be carried down by the rivers and so might be recovered from the river silt. John Sutter first found gold at Sutter’s Mill, on the bank of the American River, in 1848. This started the California Gold Rush, when people came in droves to the state to make their fortunes.

 

One method of finding gold is panning, a simple and low-cost process. Gravel and dirt from the river bed is scraped into a pan along with some water. The pan is then shaken gently from side to side, causing the gold to sink to the bottom. The water and lighter silt and dirt are poured out, and the panner can then search through the remaining material for little pieces of gold. A pocket of gold, which George hopes to find, is a larger piece of gold that has come away from its vein but has not yet been swept away by the river.

 

Gold pan
Creative Commons AttributionGold pan - Credit: Nate Cull on Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Page 37. " He was a jerkline skinner, the prince of the ranch "
Mule team
Creative Commons AttributionMule team - Credit: TnTrouble on Flickr

A skinner is the driver of a team of mules.

The jerkline is the rein that controls the lead animal, so a jerkline skinner is the main driver of a mule team.

Page 37. " He was capable of killing a fly on the wheeler’s butt with a bull whip "
A Bullwhip
GNU Free Documentation LicenseA Bullwhip - Credit: Cgoodwin on Wikimedia Commons

The wheeler is the animal harnessed closest to the front wheels of the cart.

A bullwhip is a single-tailed whip used for driving livestock.

Page 45. " Him and me was both born in Auburn "

 Auburn is a city in California, in the Greater Sacramento area. The town was originally built up by gold prospectors and miners during the California Gold Rush.

 

Auburn, California
Creative Commons AttributionAuburn, California - Credit: Bobak Ha'Eri on Wikimedia Commons
Page 47. " The guys in Weed start a party out to lynch Lennie "

Lynching is an act of execution carried out by a mob of people outside of the usual process of law. The most common method is hanging, but shooting or burning at the stake also occur.

Lynching of African Americans was common during the period following the abolition of slavery, when legal segregation of black people was still widespread. Lynching occurs more during times of political or economic stress, such as during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

More about the history of lynching. Warning: graphic and upsetting images.

 

Weed is a town in the northernmost part of California, at the time best known for its lumber mill.

 

Page 49. " Didn’t neither of you play horseshoes? "
Men playing Horseshoes, 1942
Public DomainMen playing Horseshoes, 1942 - Credit: US Federal Gov. on Wikimedia Commons

Horseshoes is a game in which players attempt to throw horseshoes over stakes set in the ground. Although this sounds like an improvised form of entertainment on a farm, horseshoes is actually a widely recognised game with official rules.

 

Page 50. " Why’n’t you shoot him, Candy? "

The next few pages, in which the others urge Candy to shoot his old dog, are heavy with symbolism. This is one of the most important scenes in the book.

 

It demonstrates the harsh attitude of life on the ranches: when something is no longer useful it is simply discarded. This is the life that George and Lennie have to deal with, and it explains why George is so anxious to become a land-owner, to take control of his own destiny and ensure that he and Lennie are never discarded for being useless. Old age is not friendly to ranch-hands, and everyone is anxious to continue proving their worth, or to find some kind of security for their old age. This also explains why the men all act so suspiciously and closed-off around each other. No-one feels as though they can truly trust anyone else; everyone has to look out for themselves in this harsh world.

 

Dead mouse
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeDead mouse - Credit: Penny Mayes on Geograph

 It is also one of the more moving examples of animal imagery in the book. Many animals are shown being killed before they are able to die a natural death. This shows how life can bring unexpected, cruel turns, which connects to the book’s title. 'Of Mice and Men' comes from a Robert Burns poem (‘To a Mouse’):

“the best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry”

Time and again, lives are overturned by forces beyond their control.

 

Loneliness
Creative Commons AttributionLoneliness - Credit: salvi-burton on DeviantArt

The death of the dog emphasises themes of loneliness within the story. Candy allowed himself to love the dog too much, and it was taken away from him. Now he has no companion.

 

Finally, this scene strongly foreshadows events to come.

 

Page 50. " I seen a guy in Weed that had an Airedale could herd sheep "

An Airedale is a breed of dog that originated in Yorkshire, England. Airedales are small, boxy-looking terriers that were originally bred to hunt otters. They are certainly not known for herding sheep.