How Does Steinbeck Uses Details in This Passage to Present the Bunkhouse and Its Inhabitants?
How does Steinbeck uses details in this passage to present the bunkhouse and its inhabitants?
In the rest of the novel, how does Steinbeck present the lives of ranch workers at that time?
Key themes: American Dream, isolation, loneliness, American Dream, poverty, lack of hope. Same dreams, same fate. Constantly moving. Fate/lack of escape
- Use quotation
- Discuss symbolism, structure (novel opens and ends the same); key obvious points (use of light, sounds, horseshoes, animals).
Could bring in racism (Crooks).
(5 minutes gone!)
Part a ANSWER:
Steinbeck uses the bunkhouse as a metaphor for the lives of its inhabitants. The building is ‘rectangular’ with ‘small square windows’ – it is one single, functional building, in the way that the workers are all treated in the same way – as if they have only one function (to work) and they’re all the same. The whitewashed walls symbolise how the workers’ lives lacks any form of colour (and could even be a subtle reference to the racism of the workers, because only whites are permitted in the bunkhouse).
Steinbeck also uses the description of the bunkhouse to show the reality of the workers’ lives, and how the American Dream is a failure. The windows are small, as if light (symbolising hope) is not allowed into their lives. The beds are identical, except for those which are showing their ‘burlap ticking’, perhaps implying how the workers’ own lives are unravelling beneath the surface. The poverty of the workers is shown through the ‘nailed’ apple boxes – each worker is only allowed two shelves of belongings – and the patronising tone with which the writer describes the ‘little’ articles owned by the ranch men implies just how pathetic their attempts to be different really are – as each man has the same items on his shelf.
Steinbeck’s use of symbolism continues with the description of the neck-ties – perhaps representing a vain hope of better times – and the playing cards littered around the boxes – as if life is a gamble to these men, and they have metaphorically ‘thrown in their hand’ in frustration. This idea links to how they blow all their money on women and alcohol each month – it’s as if they have accepted they will never make much of their lives.
The reality of the American Dream is cleverly portrayed through the ‘Western magazines’ that the men love to ‘secretly believe’ – the idea that they fantasise about a life in which they have the power and adventure of a cowboy, contrasts sharply with the reality of their mundane, boring lives.
Steinbeck continues to show the harsh lives of itinerant workers: Lennie follows George, like a child follows its parent, to emphasise his innocence and lack of understanding in such a brutal world – showing how hard life is for these workers. This is reinforced by the description of Candy, with his ‘round, stick-like wrist but no hand’ – his disability is used to highlight how all the men lack power in some way, and is a simple reminder of how poverty has handicapped them all. George’s anger at his impotence (lack of say in his life) is emphasised through his curses (‘What the hell...?’) and heavily monosyllabic language; the sibilant ‘sack of straw’ conveys the writer’s disgust at the poor living conditions of these men, who sleep like animals.
[I’ve run out of time – hit part b! 20 minutes to go...now cover anything from my plan I haven’t yet dealt with, and find other examples...]
Part b ANSWER:
In the rest of the novel, Steinbeck continues to present the lives of the workers as lonely, hopeless and futile. This is conveyed through the novel’s structure – the novel starts and ends at the same place, at the same time of day, as if all the events in the novel change nothing – Lennie is fated to die, George is destined to end up alone, and nothing can alter the paths of these migrant workers. The river is used in the opening and closing chapters as a metaphor for these men’s lives – like the water, their fate travels in one direction, and there is no turning back for them.
Steinbeck uses metaphors throughout to imply how the men are as unfortunate and helpless as beasts. Lennie is constantly compared to a bear with his ‘paws’; Candy’s dog is a direct parallel to Candy himself – they’re both old, tired, mostly useless, and therefore ignored by society – unless the workers are fit and healthy, they are deemed useless.
Despite their helplessness, the men do still yearn for freedom and to live the American Dream – the tournament, playing with horseshoes, is a powerful metaphor for this, with the horseshoe being a symbol of superstition (luck); but the game is abandoned, just like their own dreams, and instead its only purpose has been for the clangs to sound like an ominous bell, counting down the time to Lennie’s inevitable death (and the end of the dream).
The power of the dream to spur men on is demonstrated through Lennie’s use of the childlike refrain ‘gonna tend the rabbits...’; his childish dream is adopted by Candy, Crooks and even George, representing how all the workers need hope in order to survive; but, like the fading light on the Gabilan mountains, this dream is always fading.
Perhaps the most significant, and simple, feature that represents the lives of these workers, is the name of the town – Soledad – meaning ‘loneliness’. The men’s destination is loneliness – and we never see them leave this state.
[35 minutes – I gave myself less]
Could also have discussed:
- Segregation from women
- Segregation from Crooks/blacks
- Lack of genuine names for all except Lennie and George...