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Teaching Allegory in Of Mice and Men

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/17/2012

They know about George and Lennie. They know about Curley and his wife. Do they understand, however, the social significance of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. Start teaching Of Mice and Men at a higher level by teaching it as an allegory.

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    Teaching Of Mice and Men Under Pressure

    It was my first year teaching and Mrs. Harshreview sat in the back of the room writing my teacher evaluation. Things were going well until J.J. Stockboy in the fourth row asked a question. "Mr. Irrelevant," he asked, "I think it's great how enthusiastic you are about your allegory lesson plans and teaching Of Mice and Men. I really like all the swear words. But when will I ever use this? You have to admit allegory lesson plans don't have a whole lot of usefulness in the real world."

    I should have mentioned that analyzing literature and allegory helps students develop critical thinking skills, skills coveted by employers. Instead, I told him to shut up before I reenacted the final scene of the novel and blasted him in the back of the head. Mrs. Harshreview fired me on the spot and my allegory lesson plans have remained dormant ever since.

    Except for this one.

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    What is an Allegory?

    Before teaching this lesson, you'll need to explain what an allegory is. Here are the basics:

    • allegory - a narrative in which characters and action represent concepts different from the literal meaning of the story.
      • If Of Mice and Men is an allegory, each character should represent something different, in this case, a common person in society.
    • symbol - something that on the surface is its literal self but which also has another meaning or even several meanings.
      • Each of the characters in Of Mice and Men symbolizes a group in society.
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    Use pictures to teach students about symbols and what an allegory is.

    1. Discuss and copy the above information.
    2. Choose one picture for each character. Either draw pictures on the board or provide a handout with pictures on it. Here are some examples
      • Wheelchair - Lennie, because he symbolizes how those with handicaps are often victimized by society.
      • Bottle of Alcohol - George, because he symbolizes the working man's need to escape from reality through vice. His reckless spending on alcohol and prostitutes prevent him from ever raising enough money to finance his dreams of owning his own farm.
      • Boxing Gloves - Curley, because he is a bully and symbolizes those in society who use their status (he's the boss's son) to hurt others.
      • Segregation Sign - Crooks, because he symbolizes those forced to be outsiders based on race.
      • Canes - Candy, because he symbolizes elderly abuse and discrimination. He also symbolizes those who finish their lives in poverty and misery.
      • Cash Register - The boss, he doesn't have to do much to make money. He symbolizes business owners who generate passive income.
      • Lipstick - Curley's wife, because she is superficial. She symbolizes the objectification of women and broken dreams.
      • Lunch Pail - Carlson, because he works. He symbolizes blue collar workers who think little. They show up, do their job, and give little thought to the future.
    3. Instruct students to label each picture (use the above as an answer key) with the character's name and a brief description of what he or she symbolizes and why.
    4. Write a paragraph or an essay explaining how Of Mice and Men is an allegory. The topic sentence should state the title of the work and something about the ranch being a miniature model of society. The paragraph should include two characters and what they symbolize, with analysis.