A Comparison of “Of Mice and Men” the Novel and Film

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When comparing the novel ‘Of Mice and Men’ by John Steinbeck to the 1939 film version directed by Milestone, it is evident that one is a print text and the other is a visual text. Analyzing a visual text involves considering camera angle, sound, lighting, editing, and mise en sc�ne. On the other hand, when examining the print text, one focuses on description, dialogue, characterisation, and imagery.

In both the novel and the film, there are three significant scenes: the shooting of Candy’s dog, the fight between Curley and Lennie, and the scene in Crooks’ room. However, these scenes have notable differences between the book and film. This is because the book allows readers to form their own opinions about characters at their own pace, while the film has a limited timeframe for character introduction and story development. Moreover, since Steinbeck wrote the book but did not produce the film, there are two different interpretations of his original novel.

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The opening scene, which holds great significance in both the film and novel versions, portrays the tragic moment when Candy’s dog is shot. This particular scene evokes intense emotions and leaves a profound impact on the audience. In the film adaptation, various high angle shots are employed to draw attention to the dog, emphasizing its presence alongside Candy and suggesting a strong bond between them. These powerful visuals effectively convey their connection. However, in contrast to the cinematic portrayal, readers of the book are encouraged to utilize their imagination. Through characters’ dialogues, the novel successfully communicates how significant Candy’s dog is to him. For instance, when Carlson proposes putting down the suffering dog, Candy responds with a helpless expression and reveals that it would deeply hurt him. This interaction highlights Candy’s attachment to his loyal companion as he hesitates letting go of it. Furthermore, Candy expresses that he doesn’t mind caring for his canine friend.

Throughout the scene, there is a focus on both the newspaper article and the story of Candy’s dog. This technique creates tension as the audience eagerly awaits the dog’s fate. Despite the ongoing newspaper story, Candy remains the central focus in this film scene. The emotional build-up is further intensified by other characters in the frame who seem indifferent to Candy. In the novel, tension arises between Candy and Carlson as he watches uneasily while Carlson continues to observe the old dog. The other characters in the scene are oblivious to this non-verbal communication until Carlson finally speaks, heightening the tension even more.

After the conversation between Carlson and Candy concludes and Candy is finally persuaded to permit Carlson to shoot the dog, a somber soundtrack begins to play. This soundtrack enhances the emotional impact as a close-up shot focuses on Candy. Next, the dog is taken outside through a door, which is filmed from an overhead perspective. This high angle shot not only evokes emotion in the audience but also makes the dog appear small and fragile. Accompanied by the soundtrack, this scene creates a particularly powerful image, especially when followed by a shot of Candy walking towards his bed. The novel provides more detailed description of this sequence compared to the film.

The dog’s description in the film is depicted as getting up slowly and stiffly, following the leash’s gentle pull. The slow pacing of the scene intensifies the emotions between the characters. In the film, the camera focuses on each character in the room individually, without any dialogue, further increasing tension. The silence adds to the suspense as they await the sound of the gunshot. The deliberate editing creates a sense of anticipation. When the gun finally goes off, the characters are startled and they all turn their sympathetic gazes towards Candy, just as they do in the novel. The focus is on capturing Candy’s emotions in both versions – the film and the novel.

The next scene depicts the fight between Curley and Lennie in their bunk. Curley initiates the fight because he dislikes big guys. The film intensifies the tension by showcasing long shots of all the characters and employing a deep, slow soundtrack, hinting at an imminent climax. The dark lighting further contributes to this atmosphere, as Curley attempts to exert dominance over the other characters. The fight is triggered when Curley accuses Slim of being involved with his wife. Slim confidently responds, “Well now you know,” provoking Curley.

The way the characters are positioned in long shots in the film allows the audience to understand the relationship between Curley and the other men. Despite Curley’s desire to be dominant, it becomes clear that Slim holds this role, causing Curley to lose respect from both the other characters and the audience. In both the film and the novel, Curley’s disrespectful attitude leads to a loss of respect from others. He aggressively confronts Carlson, threatening him to stay out of their argument, and Carlson retaliates with disdain, calling Curley a punk. By using the dialogue of the other characters, this effectively portrays the situation and builds up tension leading to the eventual fight.

The fight commences when Lennie’s smile intimidates Curley, prompting him to punch Lennie, who cannot retaliate due to George’s orders. Throughout the film, tension builds with a dramatic soundtrack and quick editing to show each character’s reaction to the fight. Similar to the novel, George shouts “Get ‘im, Lennie!”, motivating Lennie to grab and crush Curley’s hand. A long close-up on Curley’s hand accompanied by fast, high-pitched music emphasizes his injury to the audience. Steinbeck utilizes imagery in the novel to depict the situation, akin to the impactful shot of the hand described as “flopping like a fish” and being “lost in Lennie’s big hand”.

The camera shot changes to a viewpoint near the door, simulating someone else’s perspective as it observes the men. This technique is frequently utilized in the film. Lennie’s fearful demeanor is unmistakable from his body language. In the novel, his terror is vividly depicted as “Lennie watched in terror.” Lennie’s frightened body language is accentuated by a close-up shot of his face, highlighting the fear in his eyes. This also creates the perception of his innocence despite having just harmed Curley.

Additionally, the use of dark lighting creates a sense of foreboding, suggesting that a catastrophic event has just occurred and that an even more disastrous event is yet to come. The props further heighten the dramatic nature of the incident and its aftermath. The book also portrays this scene as a horrific incident, focusing on the physical injuries sustained by George and Lennie. Lennie’s face is described as having blood running down it with one eye cut and closed, while Curley appears pale and diminished. These two contrasting descriptions portray Lennie as a dominant figure, which is a notable change from his previous depiction.

The next significant scene is set in Crooks’ room, which is important because it is where the dreams of the future on the ranch are discussed. It is also the place where Crooks, the character that faces discrimination, resides. It is worth noting that focusing on these aspects in both the novel and film is uncommon for the time they were produced (the early 20th century), as it was unusual to portray white and black individuals together. The scene begins with a high angle close up shot of Crooks applying liniment to his back, emphasizing his age and disability resulting from a previous back injury. This detail is also mentioned in the book through the repetition of Crooks touching his spine intermittently.

The film emphasizes the discrimination of the time by highlighting the difference in conditions between the men. In contrast to the novel, the film does not focus as much on the room itself. The darkness and mystery of Crooks’ room are portrayed through props, which create a neat and orderly setting compared to the other bunkhouses seen in the film. This difference is not as extensively described in the film as it is in the novel, where there is a lot of detail about the “harness-room” and Crooks’ bunk, which is described as a “long box filled with straw, on which his blankets were flung”.

The following scene in the film shows Lennie entering the room through the door. The camera angle used in this shot makes Lennie appear larger than life. This height variation creates a realistic effect and allows the audience to feel like they are placed between Lennie and Crooks. It also suggests that Lennie is the dominant figure in their relationship. This stands in contrast to Steinbeck’s portrayal in his writing, where there seems to be less pressure between the two characters and Lennie is shown making more efforts, which is not conveyed in the film.

The text emphasizes Lennie’s portrayal in the book compared to the film. In the book, Lennie is depicted as standing in the doorway and trying to make friends by smiling helplessly. This language doesn’t portray Lennie as the dominant figure, unlike how he appears in the film. The conversation between the two characters is accompanied by mid shots and close-ups, creating tension and hinting at impending danger, although nothing actually happens. The intense language of the novel is represented in the film through slow editing and the absence of a soundtrack.

The conversation is filled with dramatic language, as Crooks makes it clear that Lennie is not welcome in the room, stating firmly that “Nobody got any right to in here but me”. In the absence of an introduction to the room, the scene is established through high angle shots, which provide a sense of place and time. The dark lighting further enhances the atmosphere. The cameras then shift focus between the two characters, creating a tense atmosphere. However, in the novel, this tension is conveyed solely through dialogue.

The next significant part of this scene involves Candy entering, with the focus on Lennie and George’s shared dream of owning a ranch. Throughout this scene, mid-shots and close-ups are used to emphasize the significance of the dream within the story and its importance to the men’s lives. This is also the pivotal moment in the story where the dream seems attainable, bringing hope for the men, particularly Crooks, who has been isolated due to his race.

The book depicts the dream as more exciting through the use of Lennie’s language, as he presents it as a reality, saying “It ain’t no lie. We’re gonna do it.” Milestones enhances this excitement with bright lighting that evokes emotion. Steinbeck concludes the passage by discussing the dream of Lennie, George, Candy, and later Crooks. Crowoks inquires about Candy’s thoughts, to which Lennie eagerly responds, “Bout the rabbits.” This reveals Lennie’s expectation for Crooks to be aware of their dream of purchasing their own land and to “Live on the fatta the lan'” due to its proximity to becoming a reality.

The dream discussion quickly improves the atmosphere, allowing the three men to form a bond. This is highlighted through the soft lighting, creating a welcoming ambiance. Shortly after, Curley’s wife appears following an argument with Curley. Curley kicks her out of their house, causing her to seek solace in Crooks’ room. From the moment she enters in the film, she is presented as a seductive and playful woman on the ranch. The novel describes her as “standing in the doorway, smiling a little at them, rubbing one hand’s nails with the thumb and forefinger of the other,” and having a “heavily made up face” with slightly parted lips.

The portrayal of Curley’s wife differs between the book and the film. In the novel, she is depicted as a highly sexual being, while the film softens her appearance with attractive lighting. Interestingly, both the book and the film emphasize a crucial scene where Curley’s wife learns that Lennie caused harm to Curley’s hand instead of a machine. The novel adds a touch of humor as Curley’s wife laughs and interacts with the machine, which is absent in the film. Moreover, her entrance in the novel holds greater significance compared to the film. This contrast highlights the emotional depth present in the novel that is missing in the film.

Soon George arrives, standing “framed in the door” just like Lennie did initially, indicating a connection between the two characters. George then looks disapprovingly, creating tension in their conversation because Lennie was instructed to stay away from Crooks and his room. The unequal dynamic between them is evident, as George seemingly asserts dominance over Crooks, highlighting the racial difficulties Crooks faces due to his skin color. Although this scene holds significance in the story, with George being upset at Lennie for divulging their dream to others, neither of the texts go into much detail about it. The surprise aspect stems from the use of long camera shots and slow editing, particularly as it occurs towards the end of the scene.

Other than some changes, the two scenes from both texts seem very similar, with the book providing more detail. This detail is omitted in the film because it is visually depicted through props. The novel emphasizes Crooks’ room more than the film does, using a simplistic style and language that highlights the story’s significant themes. Steinbeck employs literary techniques such as monosyllabic words and cinematic effects to easily set the scene of Crooks’ room. This descriptive writing immerses the reader in the confines of the harness room with Crooks and Lennie, enhancing the story’s realism, unlike the film adaptation.

In conclusion, I prefer Steinbeck’s novel over Milestone’s film because the novel allows the reader to use their imagination to form opinions about the characters and setting. Steinbeck effectively combines detailed descriptions of the scenery with vague character descriptions to engage the reader and stimulate their imagination, which is more impactful than the film. The novel leaves more room for the reader’s imagination compared to Milestone’s film adaptation. This is more fulfilling because the reader feels a genuine sympathy for George and Lennie that is not influenced by their portrayal in the film. Milestone’s interpretation of the characters is evident in the film, as it is his own perspective on the novel. However, by reading the novel, each individual can form their own interpretation.

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A Comparison of “Of Mice and Men” the Novel and Film. (2017, Oct 26). Retrieved from


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