Steinbeck’s of Mice and Men and the Pearl
Although John Steinbeck is recognized for the themes of his novels, including the struggles of the working class and social injustice, he is also known for his excellent use of the literary elements.
In two of his novels, Of Mice and Men and The Pearl, Steinbeck uses different types of tone, diction, and syntax to enhance meaning and strengthen the impact of his message. In Of Mice and Men Steinbeck presents an innocent tone through his character, Lennie, to create meaning in the piece.The tone is brought out through Lennie’s close following of George, which the reader sees when, “he pulled his hat down a little more over his eyes the way George’s hat was,” (page 4 OMM). This gives the reader the idea the Lennie looks up to George as a role model, as a son would to his father. This child-like perception of Lennie is present throughout the whole of the story and pulls out a strong emotional factor that gives the piece meaning at the close. Steinbeck uses a different tone, one of realization, to enforce meaning in The Pearl.When Kino’s, “brain cleared from its red concentration and he knew the sound — the keening, moaning, rising hysterical cry from the little cave in the side of the stone mountain, the cry of death,” (page 114 TP).
The shift in his thought process shows the reader that Kino’s actions were in protection of the pearl, and not his family. This is one of many scenes in the book that signify the engulfing of Kino’s mind in greed. The neglecting of his family gives the reader a sense of disapproval toward Kino and deepens the meaning in the value of the moral that greed is evil.Steinbeck uses different diction in each of these stories, but it serves a common purpose of helping the reader understand the different characters’ backgrounds and experiences, which increases the meaning of each story. The characters in Of Mice and Men use the unique vernacular of American migrant workers in the 1930s. George uses words like “ain’t” and “y’all” and Lennie speaks often about living, “offa the fatta the lan’,” (page 57 OMM). These examples of informal diction give the reader the idea that Lennie and George are uneducated and poor.
This colloquial diction not only enriches the meaning of the story, but also brings the characters to life. In The Pearl, Steinbeck uses calm and simple diction to better portray the depth of the characters’ feelings and moods. For example, through his words, Kino shows that the pearl has become more than just a solution to his problems; it “has become [his] soul . . . If [he] give[s] it up, [he] shall lose [his] soul,” (page 87 TP) John Steinbeck uses syntax to engage the reader and set the mood of each scene in both books. By doing this, the meaning in each scene is deepened.
However, the syntax used in The Pearl is different from that used in Of Mice and Men. In The Pearl, Steinbeck uses listings to portray each scene thoroughly. At one point, he describes the evils of one night, when “the coyotes cried and laughed in the brush, and the owls screeched and hissed over their heads. And once some large animal lumbered away, crackling the undergrowth as it went,” (page 91 TP). This gives the rest of the scene a sense of depth in its meaning due to the fact that the reader knows all that is happening and feels the tension in the atmosphere.Steinbeck’s description of the Salinas River at the beginning of Of Mice and Men consists of one long sentence that picks up on all aspects of the scene. “On one side of the river the golden foothill slopes curve up to the strong and rocky Gabilan mountains, but on the valley side the water is lined with trees—willows fresh and green with every spring, carrying in their lower leaf junctures the debris of the winter’s flooding; and sycamores with mottled, white, recumbent limbs and branches that arch over the pool,” (page 1 OMM).
Through this elongated sentence structure, Steinbeck better portrays the joyfulness and tranquility of the river, which pulls the reader into the scene and creates more meaning in the actions that take place. In both Of Mice and Men and The Pearl, John Steinbeck puts his own twist on tone, diction, and syntax, which gives each novel’s message more importance and meaning. But the meaning itself is always up to the reader to “take […] from [the novel], and read his own life into it,” (Prologue TP).