Of Mice and Men - Literary Terms


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Language Arts, History, Performing Arts

Grade Level


Type of Activity

Small Group, Individual, Entire Class, Oral Presentation, Ongoing, Writing, Performing Arts


  • Students will understand basic literary terms from Of Mice and Men and be able to provide specific definitions and examples.
  • Students will be able to use/show literary terms in their own writing.
  • Students will be able to successfully pass quizzes based on definitions /examples of literary terms.


It is important for students to be able to understand, define, and apply literary terms for any piece of literature they encounter. In their notebooks, students should keep a growing bank of literary terms associated with the novel.

Materials Needed/Preparation

Estimated Time

Learning and applying literary terms is an ongoing activity. The amount of time spent is at the discretion of individual teachers.


  • After the teacher has introduced initial terms, as appropriate (see below), students should be able to not only define the terms but point out specific examples of each from the novel itself. They should place these initial terms/examples in their notebooks. Teachers should be careful not to give away plot elements when providing examples. There are two examples for each of the initial literary terms: 1) actual examples from Of Mice and Men (to be provided as that point in the story is reached) and 2) a more general example (to be used for initial discussions).
  • Pointing out such examples can be done in pairs or threes in front of the class. For more creative students, such examples can be acted out. For example, for magic realism, the students would define the term, and then briefly act out the scenes at the end of the novel involving Lennie and the giant rabbit and Lennie and Aunt Clara. 
  • The students in the audience will take notes and later be tested on the terms. This is an initial list of terms that should be learned early on during the course of the novel. A comprehensive list can be found here

Preliminary Literary terms for Of Mice and Men 

All page number references are from the 1993 Penguin Books edition.

Personification—Giving human traits (qualities, feelings, action, or characteristics) to non-living objects (things, colors, qualities, or ideas).

  • General Example: The wind danced into the room.
  • Of Mice and Men Example: “The shade climbed up the hills toward the top” (2).

Juxtaposition—The act or an instance of placing two or more things side by side.

  • General Example: Judy went to the mall with her friends who loved to frequent the clothing shops.  Judy much preferred the bookstores.
  • Of Mice and Men Example: At first, the description of the Salinas River Valley, where George and Lennie sleep before going to the ranch, seems idyllic and Eden-like. “The water is warm too, for it has slipped twinkling over the yellow sands in the sunlight before reaching the narrow pond” (1). Soon, the area seems a more ominous place as George instructs Lennie to hide here if he gets into any trouble. “‘Lennie—if you jus’ happen to get in trouble like you always done before, I want you to come right here an’ hide in the brush’” (15).

Symbolism—Something that represents something else by association, resemblance, or convention, especially a material object used to represent something else.

  • General Example: The American flag. (See Symbolism for details.)
  • Of Mice and Men Example: Rabbits represent Lennie’s naïve dreams of owning land in the Great Depression of the 1930s. Lennie constantly talks about raising rabbits on the ranch he and George hope to own. “‘An’ have rabbits. Go on, George! Tell about what we’re gonna have in the garden and about the rabbits in the cages…’” (14).  

Foreshadowing—When the author provides hints of what may happen later in the story.

  • General Example: In a play, the main character in the first act might show the audience he has a pistol by placing it in his pocket. Later, in the third act, he is attacked and is able to defend himself with the pistol.   
  • Of Mice and Men Example: When Lennie reveals he has a dead mouse in his pocket, George questions him. “‘Uh-uh. Jus’ a dead mouse, George. I didn’t kill it. Honest! I found it. I found it dead’” (5). This foreshadows the death of Lennie’s puppy and the death of Curley’s wife.

Simile—A comparison of generally unlike objects using “like” or “as.”

  • General Example: His fingers were like tree branches.
  • Of Mice and Men Example: “On the sand banks the rabbits sat as quietly as little gray, sculptured stones” (2).

Metaphor—A direct comparison of generally unlike objects NOT using “like” or as.”

  • General Example: His fingers are the tree branches that scraped the side of the house.
  • Of Mice and Men Example: “Lennie dabbled his big paw in the water…” (3).

Conflict—A problem or unresolved issue in a story.

  • General Example: Judy wants to finish her homework, but her friend wants her to go to the mall. Judy is confused about what to do.
  • Of Mice and Men Example: George tells Lennie, “‘God a ‘mighty, if I was alone I could live so easy. I could get a job an’ work, an’ no trouble... you do bad things and I got to get you out’” (11). Lennie replies, “‘George, you want that I should go away and leave you alone?’” (12).

Climax—A turning point in the story.

  • General Example: Judy goes to the mall, without doing her homework, and runs into her English teacher who asks about her work.
  • Of Mice and Men Example: One of the first major turning points is when George and Lennie arrive late to the ranch; the ranch boss is mad at them and is suspicious of George when he talks for Lennie (21-23).

Resolution—The solution to conflicts presented in a story.

  • General Example: Judy, being smart and time efficient, is able to do both her homework and go to the mall.
  • Of Mice and Men Example: George solves his conflict with the ranch boss by explaining (falsely) that he talks for Lennie, because Lennie was kicked in the head by a horse when he was a kid (22). 

Alliteration—A string of words beginning with the same consonant.

  • General Example: Susie sold seashells by the seashore. 
  • Of Mice and Men Example: “On the sand banks, the rabbits sat as quietly as little gray, sculptured stones” (2).

Imagery—The use of vivid or figurative language to represent objects, actions, or ideas.

  • General Example: Judy, dressed in blue jeans, a blue tee-shirt with the logo “Love rules,” and orange Converse high top tennis shoes with mismatched red and blue shoelaces, entered the mall. She felt as if she was the Queen of the Mall.
  • Of Mice and Men Example: “Evening of a hot day started the little wind to moving among the leaves.  The shade climbed up the hills toward the top.  On the sand banks the rabbits sat as quietly as little gray, sculptured stones” (2).

Style—A manner of expression: how a character or writer says what he/she says.

  • General Example: Judy, when confronted by mall police for suspected theft, said, “You don’t know me. I ain’t no thief!”
  • Of Mice and Men Example: When George confronts Lennie about misplacing his work ticket, Lennie replies, “‘Oh, sure, George. I remember that now.’ His hands went quickly into his side coat pockets. He said gently, ‘George . . . I ain’t got mine. I musta lost it.’ He looked down at the ground in despair” (5).

Tone—The writer's attitude toward the material and/or readers. Tone may be playful, formal, intimate, angry, serious, ironic, outraged, baffled, tender, serene, depressed, etc.

  • General Example: Judy, nervous and sweating bullets, felt the world closing in on her as the cop questioned her.
  • Of Mice and Men Example: “Lennie avoided the bait. He had sensed his advantage. ‘If you don’t want me, you only jus’ got to say so , and I’ll go off in those hills right there—right up in those hills and live by myself’” (13).

Motif—A repeating theme or event.

  • General Example: Judy tells the story (to anyone who will listen) about her encounter with the mall police almost daily.
  • Of Mice and Men Example: Throughout the novel, Lennie constantly talks about raising rabbits on the ranch he and George hope to own. “‘An’ have rabbits. Go on, George! Tell about what we’re gonna have in the garden and about the rabbits in the cages…’” (14).   

Mood—The atmosphere that pervades a literary work with the intention of evoking a certain emotion or feeling from the readers.

  • General Example: Judy felt nervous as the mall police continued to question her.  Around her, everything suddenly became fuzzy and dream-like. She felt helpless, alone, and experienced a disturbing sense of floating. 
  • Of Mice and Men Example: Upon meeting Curley, George and Lennie are clearly tense.

Curley lashed his body around. ‘By Christ, he’s [Lennie] gotta talk when he’s spoken to. What the hell are you gettin’ into it for?’

‘We travel together,’ said George coldly.

‘Oh, so it’s that way.’

George was tense, and motionless. ‘Yeah, it’s that way.’

Lennie was looking helplessly to George for instructions” (25).

Theme—The moral or message of a story.

  • General Example: Judy now realizes that false accusations occur, and she decides to forgive the mall police.
  • Of Mice and Men Example: A major theme in the novel is friendship. Even though Lennie and George have their conflicts, they remain the closest of friends. And, of course, George exacts the ultimate act of friendship at the end of the novel. 

George says to Lennie, “‘Because I got you an’—’

‘An’ I got you. We got each other, that’s what, that gives a hoot in hell about us,’ Lennie cried in triumph” (104). 

Protagonist—A main character or “hero” of a story.

  • General Example: Judy realized after her “false arrest” that not everyone is bad; she remained an honest and law-abiding person.
  • Of Mice and Men Example: George and Lennie are most likely the main protagonists, as they both try to do the best they can under often difficult circumstances.

George says to Lennie, “‘Because I got you an’—’

‘An’ I got you. We got each other, that’s what, that gives a hoot in hell about us,’ Lennie cried in triumph” (104). 

Antagonist—Usually the character who opposes the protagonist.

  • General Example: The mall police officer who questioned Judy was unfair and assumptive.
  • Of Mice and Men Example: Curley is clearly the antagonist, as he immediately takes a disliking to Lennie and George. “He [Curley] glanced coldly at George and then at Lennie. His arms gradually bent at the elbows and his hands closed into fists” (25).

Magic realism—A narrative technique that blurs the distinction between fantasy and reality.

  • General Example: After being freed, Judy saw herself rising into the air and landing upon a cloud of relief. 
  • Of Mice and Men Example: “Aunt Clara was gone, and from out of Lennie’s head there came a gigantic rabbit. It sat on its haunches in front of him, and it waggled its ears and crinkled its nose at him. And it spoke in Lennie’s voice too” (101-102).

Post Activity/Takeaways/Follow-up

  • Post Activity
    • Teachers are encouraged to have students “act out” ongoing scenes from Of Mice and Men to show their understanding of literary terms.
  • Takeaways
    • This activity helps students to learn and understand literary terms in an interactive, fun way. This can supplement or replace using a traditional literature textbook approach.
  • Follow-up
    • A final test of all literary terms, with students’ examples, is encouraged.


Teachers should regularly check students’ notebooks to ensure they are including examples of ongoing literary terms. They will also be regularly tested on literary terms.

Common Core State Standards Met

  • Reading Standards for Literature 6-12
    • Key Ideas and Details: 1, 2
    • Craft and Structure: 4, 5, 6
    • Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: 9
    • Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity: 10
  • Reading Standards for Informational Text 6-12
    • Key Ideas and Details: 1, 3
    • Craft and Structure: 4, 5, 6
  • Writing Standards 6-12
    • Text Types and Purposes: 3
    • Production and Distribution of Writing: 4, 5
    • Research to Build and Present Knowledge: 7
    • Range of Writing: 10
  • Speaking and Listening Standards 6-12
    • Comprehension and Collaboration: 1
  • Language Standards 6-12
    • Conventions of Standard English: 1, 2
  • Knowledge of Language: 3
    • Vocabulary Acquisition and Use: 4, 5, 6
  • Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies 6-12
    • Key Ideas and Details: 1, 2
    • Craft and Structure: 4, 5
  • Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects 6-12
    • Production and Distribution of Writing: 4, 5
    • Research to Build and Present Knowledge: 7