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Barron's Booknotes-Of Mice And Men by John Steinbeck
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CHAPTER 5: DEATH IN THE BARN

You have been getting lots of hints about bad things that may happen to spoil George and Lennie's dream vision. Here come those bad things-and they are going to come quickly. The first four chapters of Of Mice and Men have developed slowly and almost lazily at times. There has been a lot of talk so far and a few brief outbursts of action. The pattern is going to change in these last two chapters. They are shorter than the preceding chapters and packed with more activity.

You wouldn't know about this new pattern from the description of the barn Steinbeck presents at the beginning Chapter 5: "quiet and humming and lazy and warm." But something seems to contradict this atmosphere right away. Lennie is petting his puppy, but the dog is dead.

You probably aren't surprised that Lennie has killed the puppy. Steinbeck has been foreshadowing this all along. Think back to some of the events that gave us clues-the dead mice in Chapter 1, George's warnings in Chapter 3, the death of Candy's dog in Chapter 3. How do you think that you would respond to the puppy's death if you were Lennie? Lennie's emotions range from anger at the puppy for being so fragile, to worry that George won't let such an irresponsible person tend the rabbits on the farm, to wondering if this killing is bad enough to make him flee to the brush along the riverbank. The one thing Lennie doesn't seem to feel is sadness for the puppy. Once again, Steinbeck seems to be thinking like a biologist. Death occurs in nature. Animals respond to death, but they don't feel regret at having killed. Lennie even tries to act tough about the whole thing. He curses at the dog for getting killed and adds, "This here God damn little son-of-a-bitch wasn't nothing to George."

Things start to get worse. Curley's wife comes into the barn. Lennie quickly buries the puppy and tries to follow George's advice to avoid dealing with her. But she pushes him into a conversation by speaking the almost magic words, "I get lonely." Lennie always seems ready to respond to anyone's need for companionship.

This conversation is a little like the one Lennie and Crooks had in the last chapter. Both people talk, but they don't listen to each other. He tells her about the dead puppy, and she tells him about her sad life. Her words "tumble out in a passion of communication." Once again, Lennie the great listener brings out the talker in other people. She too has dreams that have been cut off. She wanted to be a movie star or a model. Instead she married a man she dislikes, just to spite her mother. She is not living the life of a famous person. In fact, her life is so anonymous that we never even learn her name.



All the time she is talking to Lennie, Curley's wife moves closer to him. Suddenly she realizes that he is not listening to her. She angrily asks him, "Don't you think of nothing but rabbits?" Now Lennie moves close to her. Lennie has to think about his answer. Doesn't this seem a little strange to you? You would figure that since he's been talking about rabbits from the beginning, he knows why he wants to have them. Maybe he's not so much trying to think of an answer as just trying to think of the right words to explain it. He finally answers that he likes to pet nice things. Curley's wife has been worried that Lennie is nuts, but she can understand his love of soft things. She agrees with him, and then invites disaster. She takes Lennie's hand and puts it on her head. We want to warn her and Lennie. But it is too late.

Think back over the different steps that have led up to this point. They have happened almost in slow motion. Curley's wife walks in. Lennie turns away from her. She sits down beside him. She begins moving toward him. Then he moves toward her. She moves away a little and then comes close again. She takes his hand. The movements seem a little like a dance or a fight, don't they?

Suddenly we are in fast motion, and the dance becomes a dance of death. Curley's wife screams and struggles. Lennie, afraid of what George will say, tries to quiet her forcefully and eventually breaks her neck. Throughout the description of the struggle and for the next few pages, Steinbeck uses lots of animal images to describe Lennie's actions. He paws the hay and listens to "the cry of men." He crouches and listens like a frightened beast. Perhaps Steinbeck is trying to show us that Lennie is more an animal than a person.

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Barron's Booknotes-Of Mice And Men by John Steinbeck
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