Of Mice and Men Chapter 1

Chapter 1 serves as exposition for John Steinbeck's novella, Of Mice and Men (1937). It establishes the two main characters, George and Lennie, as well as the setting. It covers where they came from and where they're going next, while also explaining their aspirations and troubles to that point. The novella's themes begin to emerge as Steinbeck sets up and even foreshadows future events. 

Of Mice and Men Chapter 1 Of Mice and Men Chapter 1

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Contents
Table of contents

    Of Mice and Men Chapter 1, Content warning, StudySmarter

    Overview - Of Mice and Men Chapter 1
    Brief Summary of Chapter 1
    • George and Lennie, American field laborers in the mid-1930s, are walking down the road toward their new destination. George is small and shrewd, while Lennie is large and gentle-hearted.
    • Lennie, who has a mental disability, doesn't remember where they're going or why.
    • George explains to Lennie how they had to run away from their last job because Lennie wanted to pet a woman's skirt, and the men there thought Lennie wanted to rape her.
    • Lennie is obsessed with small furry animals, but he is so strong that he accidentally kills them.
    • They camp for the night, where George retells the story of their dreams. One day, they hope to have plenty of money, a ranch, and an easy life.
    Characters in Chapter 1George Milton and Lennie Small
    Setting in Chapter 1 A clearing in rural California, on the road to the ranch
    Style in Chapter 13rd-person narrator
    Literary Devices and Themes in Chapter 1Foreshadowing, lack of control, isolation, obstructed dreams

    Of Mice and Men Chapter 1 Summary

    George Milton and Lennie Small walk a long, hot road south of Soledad, California. The two are migrant field hands looking for new work. George is intelligent and coarse, frequently cursing, while Lennie is mild-mannered and mentally clumsy. Lennie can't remember anything that doesn't involve small furry animals, which he loves.

    Lennie's memory is so poor that he doesn't remember what he and George are doing on the road. Frustrated, George tells him they are a quarter mile from a new ranch where they'll be working. They arrived here by bus after narrowly escaping the last place they worked, a ranch up north named Weed. There, Lennie wouldn't let go of a woman's skirt, which was soft and something he wanted to pet. The men there, who didn't know Lennie the way George does, thought he was trying to rape the woman and ran them out of town.

    Lennie frustrated George then and continues to frustrate George now. As George desperately tries to explain to Lennie what's going on, George can tell Lennie is distracted. He rightly guesses that Lennie has a mouse in his pocket, which George demands he take out. Although reticent, Lennie obeys and reveals the dead mouse he was stroking. Lennie insists he found it dead, although this seems unlikely, given Lennie is notorious for accidentally killing his pet mice. Lennie's Aunt Clara would give him mice, and Lennie would always kill them by petting them too hard. George throws the mouse as far as he can, which happens again later when he finds Lennie possessing yet another dead mouse.

    Although George always shouts at Lennie—complaining that Lennie is the reason he can't settle down and maybe get a girl—it's clear that George cares about Lennie. No one understands Lennie but George, and George is Lennie's only friend. Lennie mischievously takes advantage of George's friendship, saying he could go live in a cave by himself, where he'd no longer be George's problem. George tells him to shut up and that they're sticking together.

    As darkness approaches, the two make camp to eat dinner: beans. As they eat, Lennie pleads for George to tell him the story about the rabbits. George resists, especially as this is the one thing Lennie seems to remember by heart. Nevertheless, George acquiesces and tells Lennie about their dream: that one day they'll scrounge together the money to buy their own lot of land. They'll make it into a farm where they answer to nobody, and there, Lennie will have a hutch for rabbits of every kind and color, including colors like green that don't exist.

    When referring to their future fortunes, George refers to their "jack." Jack is slang for money.

    Of Mice and Men Chapter 1, A barn, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Lennie and George dream of owning their own land, and working on a farm is a step to achieving this dream.

    Of Mice and Men Chapter 1 Analysis

    You can analyze chapter 1 of Of Mice and Men in many ways not discussed here, but these are three standout categories for analytic interpretation.

    Chapter 1 as Exposition

    The chapter opens with the innocuous interaction between George and Lennie when Lennie drinks from stagnant water. In this interaction, George admonishes Lennie for being a fool, as drinking from stagnant water is dangerous. Right away, the reader sees their dynamic: that George is the more intelligent leader who looks after Lennie. This also reveals George's acerbic personality, which continues as he makes his first complaint to Lennie, that the bus driver dropped them off four entire miles from the ranch.

    Steinbeck cleverly uses Lennie's poor memory as an excuse for George to bring the audience up to speed. George is able to tell the audience everything they need to know while doing it for a believable reason.

    By the end of the first chapter, the reader knows the following:

    • The story's setting is south of Soledad. Context clues such as this place the story in California.

    • The main characters are George and Lennie. We are introduced to their personalities and interpersonal dynamics.

    • Plot: After a misunderstanding at their last job, George and Lennie are on their way to try again at another ranch.

    • The problem: Lennie's personality has gotten them in trouble before and may again.

    • Goals: George and Lennie dream of owning their own land—their own destiny.

    The time period is not explicitly given, which isn't surprising because it takes place near the time the book was written (1937). Similarly, today, if a writer sets their story in the "present day," they might not mention it.

    Chapter 1 as the set up for a tragedy: Obviously, the reader in chapter 1 can't know that the story is tragic, but Steinbeck does prepare the reader to experience tragedy. He does this in two major ways:

    • He establishes likable characters. George and Lennie are innocent guys down on their luck. Their friendship is charming.
    • He sets up a dream to fail. A good tragedy has the characters miss out on a slice of paradise. In chapter 1, we hope the protagonists achieve their dream of owning a farm. They won't.

    With these things established, Steinbeck can proceed to tell their tragic fate.

    Style in Chapter 1

    The story has a 3rd-person narrator, meaning the narrator refers to things as he, she, they, and it. This narrative mode is less personal than the 1st-person, but it helps to establish the reader as removed and not in control of the story. This thematically fits, because George and Lennie often don't feel in control of their lives, either.

    The 3rd-person narrator also serves to make George and Lennie joint main characters. 1st-person narration would require that either George or Lennie narrates the story, putting additional focus on that character.

    Speaking of narration, Steinbeck makes the interesting choice to set aside the first two paragraphs. While the remaining story is narrated in the past tense, the first two paragraphs are narrated in the present tense. Today, this is something that you are taught not to do, but Steinbeck does this very intentionally, as he even adds a space between the two narrative modes.

    For whatever reason Steinbeck did this, it does serve to set the mood of the opening scene. The road is lively and verdant, notably filled with animals. The narrator also establishes this as a well-seasoned trail where many have rested and made camp before. One wonders how those journeys turned out and whether George and Lennie will follow the same old-as-dirt story.

    As a final note on Steinbeck's style, the dialogue mimics speech. Characters use 'ya' for 'you' often, and verbs ending in -ing are often cut off, resulting in words like "puttin'." This helps capture a character's unique voice and accent.

    Of Mice and Men Chapter 1, A farmer, StudySmarterFig. 2 - The farmhands George and Lennie have rural accents. This establishes the realistic, farming context of the Great Depression.

    Literary Devices and Themes in Chapter 1

    Steinbeck foreshadows Lennie's death.

    Foreshadowing is when a writer provides a clever hint about the story's future. This can occur in dialogue or narration.

    You can identify foreshadowing better on a second read-through. This is because you can spot what you already know will happen.

    Steinbeck foreshadows Lennie's death with this dialogue from George:

    Jesus Christ, somebody'd shoot you for a coyote if you was by yourself. No, you stay with me."

    Of course, Lennie is shot in the end. This dialogue is also ironic because George says that Lennie should stick with him in order to be safe, when it's George who shoots and kills Lennie. Admittedly, this is an act of mercy (if anything), not malice.

    The setup for Lennie's death is also established in this chapter. George tells Lennie to meet him at this campsite if he's ever lost and in trouble. Lennie comes to this campsite at the end of the novella when he's being chased, and George meets him there as promised. This is a classic example of setup and payoff.

    Like in any good book, the themes emerge very early. One notable theme is the lack of control people have over their worlds. Lennie has no control over his strength, hurting and killing the things he loves. George feels compelled to help Lennie out, even though it prevents him from doing what he dreams of.

    The mice in chapter 1 are a symbol of Lennie's inability to control himself. Keep your eyes peeled for how other animals might symbolize relationships of control.

    This theme is closely related to the theme of obstructed dreams. Sadly, as the reader begins to see, dreams are most obstructed by the things you can't change.

    Of Mice and Men Chapter 1, George and Lennie, Play Version of Of Mice and Men, StudySmarterFig. 3 - George and Lennie are hopeful if cautious of pursuing their dreams.

    Of Mice and Men Chapter 1 Quotes

    Both of these quotes appear near the end of the first chapter when George tells his story about his and Lennie's future.

    ...because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you…"

    This quote by Lennie emphasizes that Lennie and George are special because of their symbiotic relationship. Their futures are tied together, which means that if they succeed, they both succeed, and if they fail, they both fail.

    Sure we will," George said sleepily. "Red and blue and green rabbits, Lennie. Millions of 'em.""

    George is sleepy and just wants Lennie to be quiet. Still, given George's bored, sarcastic tone throughout his story, one wonders if George believes their dream is possible. Perhaps he names colors of rabbits that don't exist because he fears that a happy ending for the pair doesn't exist, either.

    George is much more pessimistic than the childish, hopeful Lennie, but it's worth noting that George has good reason to be skeptical. George and Lennie aren't setting out together for the first time, and indeed the reader picks up near the end of their sad story.

    Of Mice and Men Chapter 1 - Key Takeaways

    • Chapter 1 serves as exposition for Of Mice and Men, setting up the main characters, George and Lennie.
    • In the chapter, George and Lennie are heading toward a new ranch, after they got ran out of the last one.
    • Lennie loves small, furry animals but accidentally kills them with his strength. He is hopeful about the future, while George is more realistic and pessimistic.
    • Themes of "people don't have control over their worlds" and "obstructed dreams" begin to emerge.
    • George tells Lennie to meet him at the campsite, should something go wrong. This sets up Lennie's death, which is also foreshadowed in the chapter.

    References

    1. Fig. 3 - Of Mice and Men (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Of_Mice_and_Men_img_2255_48135316496_o_(48981563281).jpg) by Ser Amantio di Nicolao (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Ser_Amantio_di_Nicolao) is licensed by CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)
    Frequently Asked Questions about Of Mice and Men Chapter 1

    What is the summary of Chapter 1 of Of Mice and Men?

    George and Lennie, American field laborers in the mid-1930s, are walking down the road toward their new destination. George is small and shrewd, while Lennie is large and gentle-hearted. Lennie, who has a mental disability, doesn't remember where they're going or why. George explains to Lennie how they had to run away from their last job because Lennie wanted to pet a woman's skirt, and the men there thought Lennie wanted to rape her. Lennie is obsessed with small furry animals, but he is so strong that he accidentally kills them. They camp for the night, where George retells the story of their dreams. One day, they hope to have plenty of money, a ranch, and an easy life.

    What is the main problem in Chapter 1 of Of Mice and Men?  

    The main problem in Chapter 1 is that Lennie's personality keeps getting them in trouble, so he and George are frequently on the road to someplace else. Chapter 1 is set during one of these transitional times on the road.

    What is George's first complaint to Lennie?

    His first complaint to Lennie is that the bus driver dropped them off four whole miles from the ranch.

    How does George feel about Lennie in Chapter 1?

    George is frustrated that his life is entwined with Lennie's. He feels that he could settle down and maybe get a girl if it weren't for him.

    What story does George tell Lennie in Chapter 1?

    George tells Lennie the story of their future: that one day they will have money, live off the fat of the land, and Lennie will have a hutch of rabbits.

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    • 12 minutes reading time
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