Of Mice and Men

John Steinbeck
Main Ideas

Allusions

Main Ideas Allusions

Title

Literary

The title: Of Mice and Men

The title of this novella is an allusion to the poem “To a Mouse” by Robert Burns, specifically connecting to the lines “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men / Gang aft agley, / An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, / For promis’d joy!”

Section 1

Historical

“The hell with what I says. You remember about us goin’ into Murray and Ready’s, and they give us work cards and bus tickets?”

This is an allusion to a government-backed employment agency, Murray and Ready’s, which was part of the New Deal, a series of programs set up by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression.

Religious/Literary

The flame of the sunset lifted from the mountaintops and dusk came into the valley, and a half darkness came in among the willows and sycamores. A big carp rose to the surface of the pool, gulped air and then sank mysteriously into the dark water again, leaving widening rings on the water. Overhead the leaves whisked again and little puffs of willow cotton blew down and landed on the pool’s surface.

The natural imagery described throughout the novella is an allusion to paradise as described in the Book of Genesis as well as in John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost.

Literary

A dove’s wings whistled over the water.

This is an allusion to a line in John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost: “Thou from the first / Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread / Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss[.]”

Pop Culture

“Why, I could stay in a cat house all night.”

The term “cat house” is an allusion to a building where prostitutes are available.

Section 2

Pop Culture

“Well, I think Curley’s married . . . a tart.”

The term “tart” is an allusion to a young temptress who dresses teasingly and provocatively.

Pop Culture

“An’ I bet he’s eatin’ raw eggs and writin’ to the patent medicine houses.”

This is an allusion to the cultural belief of the 1930s that eating raw eggs could increase sexual performance and the cultural practice of men writing to medicine houses looking for products that might also help them in this way.

Section 3

Pop Culture

“Well, ain’t she a looloo?”

The term “looloo” is an allusion to the misogynistic view many held toward very attractive women in the 1930s: The woman was not so much celebrated for her beauty but instead blamed for “tempting” men into desiring her.

Pop Culture

[“]We go in to old Susy’s place . . . Susy got nice chairs to set in, too. If a guy don’t want a flop, why he can just set in the chairs and have a couple or three shots and pass the time of day and Susy don’t give a damn . . . Like she says one time, she says, ‘I’ve knew people that if they got a rag rug on the floor an’ a kewpie doll lamp on the phonograph they think they’re running a parlor house.’”

This quote contains several allusions to cultural elements connected to a parlor house or brothel in the 1930s, each item collectively alluding to the cultural lifestyle of the common ranch worker as he worked to earn money only to waste it on liquor and prostitutes at the end of the week.

Historical/Pop Culture

“An’ she says, ‘There’s guys around here walkin’ bow-legged ’cause they like to look at a kewpie doll lamp.’”

This is an allusion to the way a man might walk after contracting a venereal disease, an epidemic in the early twentieth century that was publicly addressed in the 1930s as government agencies dedicated funds to awareness and prevention.

Historical/Pop Culture

“Curley’s just spoilin’ or he wouldn’t start for Slim. An’ Curley’s handy, God damn handy. Got in the finals for the Golden Gloves. He got newspaper clippings about it.”

This is an allusion to an amateur boxing tournament.

Section 4

Historical/Pop Culture

“Want me ta tell ya what’ll happen? They’ll take ya to the booby hatch. They’ll tie ya up with a collar, like a dog.”

This is an allusion to the poor treatment of mentally ill or special needs people during the 1930s, connected directly to the use of the slang term “booby hatch,” which was used to describe a mental institution or psychiatric hospital.

Historical/Pop Culture

“You bindle bums think you’re so damn good.”

This is an allusion to the slang term “bindle bums,” used to refer to ranch hands and farm workers of the 1930s since they were always moving from place to place with a “bindle,” or bundle of their belongings on their backs.

Historical/Pop Culture

“Maybe you just better go along an’ roll your hoop. We ain’t got nothing to say to you at all.[”]

The phrase “roll your hoop” is an allusion to a popular child’s game during which children would run while rolling a large hoop with a stick.

Historical

[“]I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny.”

This is an allusion to the horrific act of lynching, which was the practice of murder by a group of people using false accusations and denying fair trials and mostly targeting African Americans from the post–Civil War years into the 1950s.

Section 6

Religious/Literary

And George raised the gun and steadied it, and he brought the muzzle of it close to the back of Lennie’s head. The hand shook violently, but his face set and his hand steadied. He pulled the trigger . . . “You hadda, George. I swear you hadda. Come on with me.”

This scene is an allusion to the theme of “a heroic sacrifice,” seen in many works of literature, such as Greek mythology and religious texts. Examples include the story in Genesis when God asks Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac, and Christianity’s many references to Jesus as the sacrificial lamb.