John Steinbeck uses various literary techniques throughout his famous novel in order to convey messages that may otherwise have been ignored.
Literary devices and rhetorical techniques have always been used in literature to convey subconscious messages to readers, and John Steinbeck capitalizes upon this in his novel Of Mice and Men. Mastering the subtle forces of literary techniques allows him to create a very moving story about human nature and the cruelty many humans show towards one another. His combination of dialogue, foreshadowing, and imagery creates a vivid portrait of the cruelty that one man puts upon another.
Foreshadowing plays a massive part within the pages of Of Mice and Men, so much so that nearly every event is foretold through small events that represent something bigger. The most obvious example deals with Candy and his beloved dog, after he lets another man put the dog out of its misery. He says “I ought to have shot that dog myself, George. I shouldn’t ought to of let no stranger shoot my dog,” (Steinbeck 60). This directly translates to George and Lennie, signifying that if anyone ever has to kill Lennie, George will be the one to do it. Although this seems to outshine the other scenes, a more subtle foreshadowing situation lies within Lennie’s own actions. Primarily, his actions in Weed show that women can make him nervous, and also his killing of animals slowly escalates until he murders another human. After a discussion about petting mice, George exclaims, “You always killed ‘em,” (Steinbeck 11). Later on he accidently kills a puppy, and the minute Curley’s wife walks in to the barn, the reader puts two and two together and realizes the inevitable death of Curley’s wife. This event leads to the previously foreshadowed event on Lennie’s death, and concludes the story. Steinbeck’s use of foreshadowing enlightens the reader to many events much earlier than they actually occur, and it creates an impending thought of cruelty and doom for all of the characters.
The mind’s ability to create mental images based on words off a piece of paper is a fascinating one, and Steinbeck uses this to his advantage in order to create detailed visualizations of each scene from the novel. His descriptions of nature contain the most imagery, and one bit relates directly to the predatory nature of the world. As he describes a heron interacting with water snakes, he says “A silent head and beak lanced down and plucked it out by the head, and he beak swallowed he little snake while its tail waved frantically,” (Steinbeck 97). The heron shows no mercy in its killing of the snake, and is indiscriminate to which snake it kills. It doesn’t care that it is also alive, only that he is the predator and the snake is the prey, just as strong men view the weak. Steinbeck also uses imagery to describe scenes of violence between men, employing this during the fight scene between Curley and Lennie. It clearly shows the brutality one man shows towards another once he realizes that he has the upper hand. “He slashed at Lennie with his left, and then smashed down his nose with a right. Lennie gave a cry of terror. Blood welled from his nose,” (Steinbeck 61). The cruelty that Curley exerts at Lennie is a simple reminder of how power can lead to vicious conflict from one person to another.
Dialogue also shows the cruelty that characters show towards each other, simply through the words they use in their conversation. Racism takes its place in this category, with all harm towards Crooks being entirely verbal. The cruelty in this category takes place only through language and still seems to be the most damaging to the recipient. Curley’s wife epitomizes this, screaming “I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny,” (Steinbeck 79). The minute Curley’s wife senses she has power of the African-American man, she loses all regard for human emotion and shows exactly why she is often considered to be the cruelest character in the novel. Dialogue from Curley himself is also cruel, which is displayed in the fight between him and Lennie. His rage explodes, “Come on, ya big b*****d. Get up on your feet. No big son-of-a-b**** is gonna laugh at me,” (Steinbeck 61). At this utterance, he unleashes his fury upon Lennie, beating him mercilessly. His words perfectly encompass the cruelty that he treats him with, and show just how Steinbeck uses dialogue to display human cruelty. Every word that Steinbeck incorporates into the story seems to be laced with some sort of malice and this aligns perfectly with the ongoing theme of cruelty.
Steinbeck’s masterpiece Of Mice and Men shows the harsh reality of the predatory nature of the world and mankind. The characters in his novel all seem to stay the same throughout, each exhibiting a lonely personality that creates a perfect breeding ground for cruelty towards other innocent humans. Through his use of foreshadowing, dialogue, and imagery, he creates an environment which accurately illustrates the cruelty that is exuded from the human race.