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Of Mice and Men: Does it Belong in High Schools?

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 2/14/2012

John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men is one of the most read and most banned books in the English language. Should it be taught in high school?

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    Student Readability

    "Why are you crying?" I asked my favorite student.

    She could only sob a reply, "Lennie--"


    "and the woman--" she sobbed harder.

    "Lennie and the woman?"

    "Dead!" she screamed.

    "Calm down! Just because your boyfriend, Lennie, cheated on you with another woman is no reason to kill him," I replied.

    She looked at me disgustedly, took her copy of Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, threw it at me, and said, "Maybe if you'd actually teach an interesting book from time to time instead of boring stuff like sonnets, you'd know why I was crying."

    Although she's no longer my favorite student I decided to read Of Mice and Men. I now teach it in all my 9th grade English classes--honors, regular, or basic.

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    Many teachers wonder if there is justification for use of challenged books in the classroom. After all, it does require more preparation work and there is the potential for conflict. There are ways to avoid it, however.

    Of Mice and Men may not be appropriate for all students. I recommend sending home a letter to have signed by a parent or guardian before beginning. Be sure to have an alternate novel to give those students who choose not to read it. The letter should include the following:

    • A respectful greeting
    • A summary of the novel
    • A statement of its literary worth
    • The acknowledgment of coarse language and situations
    • A literary explanation of why there is coarse language and situations
    • An encouragement for the parents to read the novel and discuss it with their children
    • The option of reading another literary work, with no penalty
    • A way to contact you with questions or problems
    • The deadline for opting out (usually after chapter 1 or 2 on account of the novel's brevity)

    Ultimately, it's the parents' and the student's decision whether or not to read the novel. Be sure to emphasize there is no penalty for choosing not to read. In addition, don't let them know what the other novel is. The decision should be based solely on whether or not the novel contains offensive material that would detract from the learning experience.

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    Literary Merit

    It's hard to imagine any semi-serious literature student not having read Of Mice and Men. It's literary merit goes beyond the fact students enjoy reading it. The novel provides excellent opportunities to discuss the following literary terms:

    • characterization
    • setting
    • irony
    • allegory
    • symbolism
    • foreshadowing
    • plot
    • conflict
    • theme
    • tone
    • mood
    • and many more

    In addition to literary devices, the novel contains several subjects worth discussing:

    • The Great Depression
    • Determinism vs Free Will
    • Societal Victims
    • The Effect of Environment
    • The Worth of Individuals
    • Racism
    • Sexism
    • The Treatment of the Mentally Handicapped
    • Sin and Vice
    • Capitalism and Socialism
    • Good vs. Evil
    • and many more

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    For further analysis, check out the brighthub Of Mice and Men Study Guide.

    Looking for a standards based syllabus for high school language arts? Click the link and find all the resources--lesson plans, unit plans, handouts, powerpoints--you need for an entire semester.