With just a few weeks to go until the exam, we are knuckling down and focusing on how to tackle exam questions. Today, we are focusing on structure in Of Mice and Men with this question:

How does Steinbeck’s structuring of the novel and its events contribute to its tragic nature?

Of course, we had to highlight the key words which we decided were: Structuring, events, tragic.

Our first thought was that the novel is very much a traditional tragedy as it ends in death, much like Frankenstein and Macbeth which we have also studied.

We felt as though FORESHADOWING is used throughout to allude to the tragedy in the novel. Foreshadowing can be seen in:

  • Descriptions of place: The bare, whitewashed walls of the bunkhouse.
  • Descriptions of people: Curley’s Wife’s red shoes, Curley’s tightly wound curly hair.
  • Descriptions of light and dark: The building darkness of the novel, and sunset Salinas Valley at the end.

Steinbeck seems to have tragic clues embedded in his work, to display to his readers the seemingly inevitable fate of his characters. We thought of the major events that were either directly tragic, or alluded to tragedy:


An overview of the whole structure reveals highs and lows in tragedy. We felt that Steinbeck did this deliberately to engage his readers and keep the plot moving at a fast rate. From this point, we now have to look at some specific EVENTS as highlighted in the question. We picked the following moments:

  • When Candy’s Pup is killed – you cannot ignore the first majorly tragic moment with his question, the correlations between Candy’s Dog and Lennie’s deaths are too obvious to overlook.
  • Curley and Lennie fight – after an optimistic moment in the novel (when Candy seems to make the dream possible), we have an ominous sign of things to come. Lennie’s unbridled anger is seen for the first time and we know that Curley will have to get revenge.
  • Curley’s Wife’s death – a tragic moment not only because she dies, but the fact that we only see her portrayed in a positive light after death.
  • Lennie’s death – a final blow to the dream of making something of themselves. It is definitely poignant that the novel ends abruptly after this moment, revealing that there is nothing significant or positive enough to add to the story of these men’s lives.

We will undertake a close analysis of these sections next lesson.