"Of Mice and Men," Vocabulary from Chapters 1-2

August 11, 2014
"The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!"
Find out how these lines of the 18th century Scottish poet Robert Burns inspired the words in 20th century American author John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men."

Here are links to our lists for the novel: Chapters 1-2, Chapters 3-4, Chapters 5-6
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
The first man was small and quick, dark of face, with restless eyes and sharp, strong features.
The little man jerked down the brim of his hat and scowled over at Lennie.
A water snake slipped along on the pool, its head held up like a little periscope.
Compare with "mimic" in this list. Both words have the same etymological root: the Greek "mimos" which means "imitator, actor, buffoon." The prefix "pan" means "all" so one person who pantomimes can perform gestures that imitate many characters. As suggested by the example sentences, a pantomime is often seen as innocent and fun, while mimicry, with its additional use of words, is often meant to be funny in a mean way.
But Lennie made an elaborate pantomime of innocence.
Lennie hesitated, backed away, looked wildly at the brush line as though he contemplated running for his freedom.
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.
He took on the elaborate manner of little girls when they are mimicking one another.
Note that this kind of ditch is a very unpleasant one to stay in, which is George's point in the sentence, and this should lead the reader to grasp the intensity of the situation he is describing.
She yells and we got to hide in a irrigation ditch all day with guys lookin’ for us, and we got to sneak out in the dark and get outa the country.
He looked across the fire at Lennie’s anguished face, and then he looked ashamedly at the flames.
At about ten o’clock in the morning the sun threw a bright dust- laden bar through one of the side windows, and in and out of the beam flies shot like rushing stars.
He stopped suddenly, stepped to the open front door and peered out.
“Damn right he don’t,” said George, slightly mollified, “not if he wants to stay workin’ long.”
His glance was at once calculating and pugnacious.
Curley is a small man who's constantly trying to prove he's better than big men. So when he steps gingerly here, he is approaching Lennie with outward menace but hidden delicacy and care.
Curley stepped gingerly close to him.
He said ominously, “Well, he better watch out for Lennie. Lennie ain’t no fighter, but Lennie’s strong and quick and Lennie don’t know no rules.”
He had drawn a derogatory statement from George.
“I don’t want no trouble,” he said plaintively.
The verb "contort" emphasizes that Lennie is more physical than thoughtful.
His face contorted with thought.
She had full, rouged lips and wide-spaced eyes, heavily made up.
Lennie, who had been following the conversation back and forth with his eyes, smiled complacently at the compliment.
“Ain’t many guys travel around together,” he mused.
Slim stood up slowly and with dignity.
Carlson stepped back to let Slim precede him, and then the two of them went out the door.

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