This post is by Rebecca Newland, the 2013-2015 Library of Congress Teacher in Residence.
While some of George and Lennie’s experiences in John Steinbeck’s classic novella Of Mice and Men are universal, such as the dream of a place to call home and the need for friendships, others are directly related to the book’s setting.
One significant element of the novella’s context is George and Lennie’s nomadic life as migrant farm laborers. At the beginning of the book, they have traveled from Weed, California in Siskiyou County to Soledad in Monterey County. Offer students this map of California created in 1888.
Use the Primary Source Analysis Tool with selected questions from the Teacher’s Guide to Analyzing Maps to encourage students to take a close look at the map. Deepen the conversation by asking:
- What can be learned about George and Lennie’s experiences from the map?
- What information about California can be gathered from the map?
- How does the map further your understanding of migrant labor in California?
Ask students to define “bindle-stiff.” Next offer this photograph: “Napa Valley, California. More than twenty-five years a bindle-stiff. Walks from the mines to the lumber camps to the farms. The type that formed the backbone of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in California before the war. Subject of Carleton Parker’s ‘Studies on IWW’.”
- In what way does the photograph fit the students’ definition of “bindle-stiff?” In what ways is it different?
- What additional insights into George and Lennie’s lives does the photograph offer?
Use the Teacher’s Guide to Analyzing Sheet Music and Song Sheets to facilitate analysis of the song “I’d Rather Not be on Relief.”
Deepen the discussion by asking:
- In what ways does the song reflect George and Lennie’s experiences?
- What questions does the song raise about the Depression and the struggles people faced?
Consider further investigation related to the lives of migrant laborers today, perhaps in your state or region.