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Reader's Involvement with Characters’ Lives in John Steinbeck’s Literary Works

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How does Steinbeck take you into the lives of the characters?

After reading a novel by John Steinbeck, you feel as though the characters have been thoroughly described. One of Steinbeck’s tools to accomplishing this is by illustrating the setting through his words. He is also very strong when it comes to characterization, and dives right into the character’s life. By putting you in their shoes, you start to think through their perspective. By the time you’re at the ending, you feel much acquainted with the lives of the characters.

Through out his stories, Steinbeck uses setting to describe what the character is going through. In The Pearl, he writes about one scene where Kino tries to block the path of the ants, but they crawl over his foot. This represents how Kino and his family were overcoming obstacles and fighting higher powers (the Spaniards). John Steinbeck also makes the reader utilize the setting to get a better understanding and vision of the story. An example is when in Of Mice and Men he explains the barn very descriptively, giving you a better idea of how the character lives. It’s as if you can picture the story in your head, while the story goes on. Lastly, the setting represents the changes that the characters have gone through. Kino starts off in a hut with just enough to get by, but near the ending ends up in cave with much less than what he started with. Instead of moving forward, he took a step backwards.

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By using characterization, Steinbeck portrays his characters more easily to his readers. He makes you feel as if you really know them. As the story progresses you start to learn how these everyday characters struggle so much. In Of Mice and Men, you see what George has to go through because he sticks around with Lennie. Not only do you see the struggles, but you also see their dreams. George and Lennie planned to get their own ranch and, “live of the fatta’ the land.” These dreams are never accomplished, but are effective in making the characters seem realistic and hopeful.

“What if that was me?” That is one question that Steinbeck brings to your mind, whether or not you notice it. When George works up the guts to shoot Lennie in the back of the head, you can’t help but wonder what you would do if faced with that situation. Or what if you were given an opportunity like Kino and were determined for a better life? Would you hold onto that even if you watched that chance slowly tear you apart and destroy you? However, you are sometimes given a stereotypical view of characters. Throughout Of Mice and Men, Crooks is called the nigger multiple times, but you never get to see how he thinks until Chapter 5. He just seems like another person that you forget about until you get inside his head. In that same chapter you realize that he feels inferior due to the way he’s treated. Curley’s wife isn’t the only one that treats him bad either. Empathy is definitely one word that you feel for Steinbeck’s characters. When you reach the last page of Steinbeck’s stories, you know that you’ve been given a 360° view on the lives of these characters.

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