Of Mice and Men – Background Info

Background
John Steinbeck was born in Salinas, California in 1902. His most famous books were written in the 1930s and 1940s, and are set in California. They deal with the lives and problems of working people.

The Setting of Of Mice and Men
Of Mice and Men is set in the farmland of the Salinas valley, where John Steinbeck was born and which he knew all his life. As a young man Steinbeck had worked as a farm hand.

Migrant Farm Workers
Huge numbers of men travelled the countryside between the 1880s and the early 1930s harvesting wheat. They earned $2.50 or $3.00 a day, plus food and very basic accommodation. During the 1930s, when there was very bad unemployment in the United States, agencies were set up under the New Deal to send farmworkers to where they were needed.

The American Dream
From the 17th Century, people emigrated from Europe to America to make a new life for themselves or their families. They dreamed of making their fortunes in the goldfields. For many the dream became a nightmare. The horrors of slavery, of the American Civil War, and the growth slum housing led to many shattered hopes. For the American society as a whole the dream ended with the Wall Street crash of 1929. However the dream survived for individuals. Thousands made their way west to California to escape from their farmlands in the mid-West. George and Lennie dreamt of their ‘little house and a couple of acres’. The growing popularity of cinema was the last American Dream for many.

Why Of Mice and Men?
The title of the novel comes from a poem by the Scottish poet Robert Burns:

The best laid schemes o’ mice and men
Gang aft agley [often go wrong]
And leave us nought but grief and pain
For promised joy!

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