John Steinbeck's Of mice and men
THE moving, questing people were migrants now. Those families which had lived on a
little piece of land, who had lived and died on forty acres, had eaten or starved on the
produce of forty acres, had now the whole West to rove in. And they scampered about,
looking for work; and the highways were streams of people, and the ditch banks were
05 lines of people. Behind them more were coming. The great highways streamed with
moving people. There in the Middle-
who had not changed with industry, who had not farmed with machines or known the
power and danger of machines in private hands. They had not grown up in the paradoxes
of industry. Their senses were still sharp to the ridiculousness of the industrial
And then suddenly the machines pushed them out and they swarmed on the highways.
The movement changed them; the highways, the camps along the road, the fear of hunger
and the hunger itself, changed them. The children without dinner changed them, the
endless moving changed them. They were migrants. And the hostility changed them,
15 welded them, united them -
to repel an invader, squads with pick-
guarding the world against their own people.
In the West there was panic when the migrants multiplied on the highways. Men of
property were terrified for their property. Men who had never been hungry saw the eyes
20 of the hungry. Men who had never wanted anything very much saw the flare of want in
the eyes of the migrants. And the men of the towns and of the soft suburban country
gathered to defend themselves; and they reassured themselves that they were good and
the invaders bad, as a man must do before he fights. They said: These goddamned
Okies are dirty and ignorant. They're degenerate, sexual maniacs. These goddamned
25 Okies are thieves. They'll steal anything. They've got no sense of property rights.
And the latter was true, for how can a man without property know the ache of ownership?
And the defending people said: They bring disease, they're filthy. We can't have
them in the schools. They're strangers. How'd you like to have your sister go out with
one of 'em?
30 The local people whipped themselves into a mould of cruelty. Then they formed units,
squads, and armed them -
country. We can't let these Okies get out of hand. And the men who were armed did not
own the land, but they thought they did. And the clerks who drilled at night owned
nothing, and the little storekeepers possessed only a drawerful of debts. But even a debt
35 is something, even a job is something. The clerk thought: I get fifteen dollars a week.
S'pose a goddamn Okie would work for twelve? And the little storekeeper thought:
How could I compete with a debtless man?
And the migrants streamed in on the highways and their hunger was in their eyes, and
their need was in their eyes. They had no argument, no system, nothing but their num-
40 bers and their needs. When there was work for a man, ten men fought for it -
with a low wage. If that fella'll work for thirty cents, I'll work for twenty-
If he'll take twenty-
No, me, I'm hungry. I'll work for fifteen. I'll work for food. The kids. You ought to see
them. Little boils, like, comin' out, an' they can't run aroun'. Give 'em some windfall
45 fruit, an' they bloated up. Me, I'll work for a little piece of meat.
And this was good, for wages went down and prices stayed up. The great owners were
glad and they sent out more handbills to bring more people in. And wages went down
and prices stayed up. And pretty soon now we'll have serfs again.
And now the great owners and the companies invented a new method. A great owner
50 bought a cannery. And when the peaches and the pears were ripe he cut the price of
fruit below the cost of raising it. And as cannery owner he paid himself a low price for
the fruit and kept the price of canned goods up and took his profit. And the little farmers
who owned no canneries lost their farms, and they were taken by the great owners,
the banks, and the companies who also owned the canneries. As time went on, there
55 were fewer farms. The little farmers moved into town for a while and exhausted their
credit, exhausted their friends, their relatives. And then they, too, went on the highways.
And the roads were crowded with men ravenous for work, murderous for work.
And the companies, the banks worked at their own doom and they did not know it. The
fields were fruitful, and starving men moved on the roads. The granaries were full and
60 the children of the poor grew up rachitic, and the pustules of pellagra swelled on their
sides. The great companies did not know that the line between hunger and anger is a
thin line. And money that might have gone to wages went for gas, for guns, for agents
and spies, for blacklists, for drilling. On the highways the people moved like ants and
searche d for w ork, for food. A nd the anger b egan to ferment.
from: John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, chapter 21, pp. 259 – 262, Harmondsworth, 1968
to rove -
to scamper -
to weld -
the flare of want -
to whip oneself into a mould of cruelty -
to drill -
windfall fruit -
to bloat up -
ravenous for -
pustules of pellagra -
to ferment -
1. According to the excerpt from Steinbeck's novel "The Grapes of Wrath", what is the migrant workers' life like?
2. How do the ones who are settled react towards the continuously growing number of migrants?
3. "The great companies did not know that the line between hunger and anger is a thin line." (ll. 61 + 62). Comment.
4. Describe the functions of The Dream about the Dream Ranch in 'Of Mice and Men '.
5. J. W. Beach writes that "'Of Mice and Men' is a tragic story of friendship." Do you agree?
6. Define the term 'play-
7. In about fifty (50) words, describe which aspect of the play-