Page 1. " A few miles south of Soledad, the Salinas River drops in close to the hillside bank and runs deep and green "
Soledad, CA
Public DomainSoledad, CA - Credit: Tolerancezero on Wikimedia Commons

 Soledad is a city in California, located in fertile farmland and grape-growing country. It has a warm climate that is ideal for growing crops year-round.

The Salinas River flows for 170 miles north-northwest, cutting through the California Coast Ranges. The river is now a ‘wildlife corridor’, connecting many forms of wildlife that have been separated by human building projects and roads. The river also provides irrigation for many farms and vineyards in the Salinas Valley.

 

‘Soledad’ means ‘solitude’ in Spanish, an appropriate name given that loneliness is one of the main themes of this story.

 

Find out more about Soledad from the town’s official website.

Find out more about the Salinas Valley and its connection with the works of John Steinbeck.

Page 2. " tramps who come wearily down from the highway in the evenings to jungle-up near the water "

Of Mice and Men is set during the Great Depression, a time when jobs were scarce and many men took to the roads in search of work. These men were called "tramps" because they tramped (walked) from town to town looking for work.

Tramps often gathered together at night for companionship and safety; these gatherings were called "jungles."

Page 6. " we’re gonna work on a ranch like the one we come from up north "
Grant-Kohrs Ranch
Public DomainGrant-Kohrs Ranch - Credit: US Federal Gov. on Wikimedia Commons

Ranches are areas of land used for raising livestock, usually for meat, dairy products or wool. Crops might also be grown to feed the animals. Ranches are mainly found in the United States and Canada, though the concept originated in Spain. They are associated with cowboys, who drive herds of grazing animals over vast areas of land.

In Australia, the equivalent livestock unit is known as a ‘station’.

 

 

The pictures below show ranch life in the American West during the 1930s:

 

Hereford Bull
Creative Commons AttributionHereford Bull - Credit: Flickr: H.G. Wood Project
Man Jumping Over Fence
Creative Commons AttributionMan Jumping Over Fence - Credit: Flickr: H.G. Wood Project
Silver Sally and Sawtooth Range Rider
Creative Commons AttributionSilver Sally and Sawtooth Range Rider - Credit: Flickr: H.G. Wood Project
Woman and Outbuildings
Creative Commons AttributionWoman and Outbuildings - Credit: Flickr: H.G. Wood Project
Page 8. " the tops of the Gabilan mountains flamed with the light of the sun "

The Gabilan Mountain Range lies between the Salinas Valley and the Diablo Range on California’s Central Coast. The mountain range holds two national parks, Fremont Peak and the Pinnacles National Park.

‘Gabilan’ means ‘sparrow hawk’ in Spanish.

 

The Pinnacles National Park, part of the Gabilan Moutain Range
Public DomainThe Pinnacles National Park, part of the Gabilan Moutain Range - Credit: National Park Service US on Wikimedia Commons
Page 8. " I seen thrashin' machines on the way down. That means we'll be bucking grain bags "

Threshing machines, originally known as "thrashing machines", were used in grain crop farming to cut the heads of grain off the straw, remove the grain from the heads, and sack the grain. Men then had to "buck", or load, the bags of grain onto wagons or trucks.

Today, the same process is normally performed by a combine harvester, which also reaps the crop.

 

For the 1939 movie Of Mice and Men, Aaron Copland composed a piece entitled "Threshing Machines":

 

Page 10. " A big carp rose to the surface of the pool "

Carp are native to Asia but have become common throughout the world.

 

Page 15. " We got somebody to talk to who gives a damn about us "
Loneliness is a major theme in Of Mice and Men
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeLoneliness is a major theme in Of Mice and Men - Credit: Adam Mirowski on Flickr

George’s account is evidently oft-repeated as Lennie joins in and echoes parts of it back to him, like a child repeating lines from a favourite story. Not only does this emphasise how child-like Lennie is, it also highlights the most important theme of the book: loneliness.

 

George and Lennie are shown to have something special because they have each other. In their line of work, men don’t trust each other much, and people tend to keep to themselves so that they only have themselves to worry about. At first George expresses annoyance that he has to look after Lennie. Now he changes his mind, declaring that what he and Lennie have is better because they will always have someone who cares about them, someone to look out for them, and someone to talk to. They will not have to put up with the loneliness that drives others to madness or despair. By having each other, and working together, they can also build a dream for their future based on co-operation. This theme will be picked up again and again throughout the book.

Page 16. " a coyote yammered "
Coyote
Creative Commons AttributionCoyote - Credit: Flickr: emdot/marya

Coyotes are small, wolf-like canines.  They are common predators in the American West and have distinctive howls or "yammers."

 

 

Page 18. " like I seen in the fair in Sacramento "
Sacramento in 1849
Public DomainSacramento in 1849 - Credit: George Victor Cooper via Wikimedia Commons

Sacramento is the capital city of California. It is situated in the north of California’s Central Valley. Sacramento became a major distribution centre and the terminus for the Pony Express during the California Gold Rush.

 

Sacramento today
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeSacramento today - Credit: Justin Smith on Wikimedia Commons
Page 19. " The bunk house was a long, rectangular building "
Bunk house at the historic Sod House Ranch in Harney County, Oregon
Public DomainBunk house at the historic Sod House Ranch in Harney County, Oregon - Credit: US Federal Gov. on Wikimedia Commons

A bunk house was a building used to house workers on ranches, usually consisting of one or more long rooms of beds, like a barracks. There was very little privacy, and bunk houses would often be very basic and dirty.  Most lacked indoor plumbing and toilets.

 

Dunn_Ranch_Novillo_Line_Camp_Bunkhouse
Public DomainDunn_Ranch_Novillo_Line_Camp_Bunkhouse - Credit: National Park Service
Page 20. " the burlap sack of straw that was a mattress "
Burlap (Hessian)
Public DomainBurlap (Hessian) - Credit: Public Domain Pictures on Pixabay

Burlap (hessian) is a material woven from jute or sisal fibres. It tends to be rough and coarse, and so is used for sacking and other practical uses rather than clothing or decoration.

The rough burlap and straw mattress is just one of the unpleasant elements of the ranch hands’ life in the bunk house.

Page 20. " Then how come he got graybacks? "

‘Graybacks’ are bed bugs. These pests crawl into bedding, lay eggs in it, and bite the sleeper during the night. The common bed bug feeds on blood and takes on a brownish-red appearance when engorged.

Other names include ‘house bugs’, ‘red coats’ and ‘crimson ramblers’.

Page 22. " the stable buck’s a nigger "

An African-American man entering a cinema by a designated separate door.
Public DomainAn African-American man entering a cinema by a designated separate door. - Credit: US Federal Gov. on Wikimedia Commons
A ‘stable buck’ was the lowest position in the hierarchy of labourers, the person who would do all the unpleasant jobs.

‘Buck’ indicates the lowest form of a rank in the army, such as ‘buck private’. However, ‘buck’ can also be a derogatory term for a black man, and so for Crooks ‘stable buck’ probably carries this meaning too.

The word ‘nigger’ was certainly understood as a pejorative term in the period of the book. The characters display a deep prejudice against black people that was very common at the time. Although slavery had been abolished in the United States in 1865, there was still widespread legal segregation of black people, forcing them to live separately, sit separately on buses and drink from separate water fountains. We can see this in effect in the segregation of Crooks's sleeping quarters, away from the white workers.

Page 23. " Oh his head was a soiled brown Stetson hat, and he wore high-heeled boots and spurs "

Most readers will recognise this as the typical cowboy look – a wide-brimmed hat and heeled riding boots with spurs.

Spurs are worn on the heel of riders' boots to encourage and direct horses.