14 Mar 2013

How to Answer the Extract Question for Of Mice and Men, Analysis of George and Lennie's Relationship

The extract question is either 20 minutes (WJEC), or 60 (AQA), depending on which exam board you're taking. A lot of students opt for this, but what should you write?

The answer below was written for the 20 minute extract question for WJEC. If I were writing for 60, I'd add more detail linked to the background and themes of the novel.

For copyright reasons, and because I don't want to type the whole thing out, here's how the extract starts and ends. You can find it on the second page of chapter two.

'He ain't no cuckoo,' said George. 'He's dumb as hell, but he ain't crazy. An' I ain't so bright neither or I wouldn't be buckin' barley for my fifty and found...
clean forgot I told him to jump in. Well, I ain't done nothing like that no more.'

What does this extract reveal about George’s relationship with Lennie?

This is the first scene in which George fully explains his relationship with Lennie, why he travels with him when he seems to infuriate him. From Chapter One, George uses a lot of violent language towards Lennie, like ‘crazy bastard’ and seems to find him hard work. It's hard for the reader to understand why 'a cuckoo' and 'a smart guy' should travel together, so this is where Steinbeck gives us the explanation.

This is the only place where we hear the true history of George and Lennie's friendship, as it flashes back to when they first met. George has already been asked this question by the ranch boss and others, but refused to answer, or lies. Here, he is truthful, and Steinbeck gives it the quality of a ‘confession’, as if this is George’s guilty secret.

George and Lennie are both poor, work hard and have lost all hope of the American Dream through the Great Depression: they toil together for little reward. George sees himself as being worth little. He says ‘if I was smart ... I’d be bringing in my own crops.’ The repetition of the singular first person pronouns (I, I, I, my) - is all connected with himself: alone, he has nothing, only negativity. George talks of the dream he hopes to share with Lennie, but he can’t do it on his own. This lets us understand why Lennie is so important to him.

George often seems harsh on Lennie, but here we see a different side to the story. The colloquial language George uses about Lennie here is to negate (deny): ‘ain’t no cuckoo’ ‘ain’t crazy’. He says Lennie isn't so bad - though George does admit he thinks Lennie is ‘dumb as hell’. This seems derogatory, but George softens the language by saying ‘I ain’t so bright neither’. He uses inclusive language and the semantic field of togetherness: ‘together’, ‘both’ ‘we’ ‘him an’ me’. His relationship with Lennie is very important to him.

Though he sees Lennie’s flaws, George finds good qualities in him too: innocence, trust, respect, gentleness and the kind of patience and forgiveness normally linked to a figure like Christ. Though George ‘beat hell’ out of him, Lennie ‘never lifted a finger.’ He ‘was so damn nice’ to George though his friend almost drowned him. In a moment of weakness, George tested his power - under pressure from others, and forever regretted it. Now, he's more willing to stand up and care for Lennie, even if others think it's weird. He uses the absolute (in colloquial phrasing) - ‘I ain’t done nothing like that no more.’  

George learned the responsibility of power through Lennie, and to respect the trust that was placed in him. He finds comfort in Lennie’s innocence and his trust.

This answer is 369 words, about a side and a half of medium handwriting. It was written in fifteen minutes and would be top band (A-A*).
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