Of Mice and Men - Understanding Lynching

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Language Arts, History

Grade Level


Type of Activity

Individual, Small Group, Writing


  • Students will understand the broader historical and social messages behind the visit to Crooks’ quarters.
  • Students will gain a broader understanding of race relations in America during the early 1900s.


Lynchings were illegal acts of vigilante “justice” that have been a part of United States history since the Colonial Period. The theme of lynching appears several times during Of Mice and Men, and is integral to understanding the conclusion of the novel.   

“She turned on him in scorn. ‘Listen nigger,’ she said. ‘You know what I can do to you if you open your trap?’” (80).

Materials Needed/Preparation

Estimated Time

2 class periods


  • Journal topic:
    • Consider providing the below journal topics as an advance organizer . You may also wish to provide a conversation map. See materials needed/preparation, above.
    • Recall the scene in Crooks’ quarters once Curley’s wife arrives (pages 76-83), focusing on what happens after the passage quoted above. What is Curley’s wife threatening to do to Crooks? How did Crooks react? Why did he react this way? What do you think about his reaction? Should he have reacted differently?
    • How did Candy react? What do you think about his reaction? Should he have reacted differently?
    • How would you have reacted if you were Crooks? If you were Candy?
    • Share out/discuss student responses. Make sure students are being specific, particularly when they are critiquing the reactions of the characters and explaining their own, hypothetical, reactions.
    • Optional: To extend this lesson, see Character Reactions—Crooks's Quarters.
  • Journal topic:
    • What is a victim? What is a bystander? What is an upstander? Which characters in the above scene match which description? Explain.
    • Share out/discuss student responses.
    • It is important that students support their responses with examples from the novel.
  • Jigsaw activity with “The Murder of Emmett Till.”
    • Different classes will require a different amount of time for this activity. Be certain to save enough time at the end of the class session for groups to present their findings.
  • In their same Jigsaw groups, have students read “Reactions in Writing.”
  • Have students look again at their journal responses. 
    • Discussion prompt: after reading “The Murder of Emmett Till” and “Reactions in Writing,” would anyone respond differently? Explain/discuss. 
      • This step also works well as a written assignment.
  • Journal/discussion topic: Why did John Steinbeck include this scene in the novel?
    • Students should consider literary reasons—how does this scene further the story; how does it function in the novel?
    • Students should consider what kind of social/historical message Steinbeck is conveying.
    • This step can be returned to after completing the novel.

Post Activity/Takeaways/Follow-up

  • Post Activity
  • Takeaways
    • Students should come away with a sobering understanding of the brutal state of race relations in the early twentieth century.
    • Students should come away with an understanding of the challenges and importance of being an upstander.


  • How thorough were students in their Jigsaw work? Were the main points/takeaways addressed?
  • How well did students support their responses to the prompts? 

California State Content Standards Met

  • History and Social Science Content Standards 8
    • Students analyze the character and lasting consequences of Reconstruction: 1, 4
  • History and Social Science Content Standards 10
    • Students analyze the development of federal civil rights and voting rights: 2, 4
  • History and Social Science Content Standards 11
    • Students analyze the major political, social, economic, technological, and cultural developments of the 1920s: 2

Common Core State Standards Met

  • Reading Standards for Literature 6-12
    • Key Ideas and Details: 1, 2, 3
  • Reading Standards for Informational Text 6-12
    • Key Ideas and Details: 1, 2, 3
    • Craft and Structure: 5
  • Writing Standards 6-12
    • Text Types and Purposes: 1, 3
  • Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies 6-12
    • Craft and Structure: 6
  • Speaking and Listening Standards 6-12
    • Comprehension and Collaboration: 1, 2, 3
    • Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas: 4
  • Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies 6-12
    • Key Ideas and Details: 1, 2, 3
  • Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects 6-12
    • Text Types and Purposes: 1, 2