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The story line of Of Mice and Men seems on the surface to be pretty simple and ordinary. Steinbeck did that on purpose. He wanted to show a world of ordinary people, primarily working-class men, living their day-to-day lives within a normal world. Events follow one another in a fairly natural, unemotional pattern. In fact, Steinbeck had originally planned to call his novel Something that Happened.
Yet during the book's "calm" three-day period, lots of unusual "somethings" happen. You'll read about such extraordinary events as the murder of two people, the killing of two animals, an attempted seduction, a fight that results in the crushing of a man's hand, discrimination against two ranch hands because of race and old age, the destruction of a life-long friendship, and the evaporation of a dream.
So, one thing is clear: don't be fooled by the simplicity of the novel. It is often true in literature that a plain surface hides a complex core. You're going to have to stay alert as you read and keep in mind what each character says and does. Also, pay close attention to the setting descriptions at the start of each chapter. All of these will be important, as you'll see below.
Steinbeck's story line is very tightly constructed. The various incidents are closely interrelated. In many ways, the events described in the novel follow a circular pattern. That is, an event that occurs early in the book will often be echoed by an event that occurs later on. For example, both the first scene of the book and the last one take place on the banks of the Salinas River. And some aspects of the conclusion are hinted at in the opening scene.
This technique of placing hints throughout a story is called foreshadowing, discussed earlier in the Form and Structure section. You'll also learn more about Steinbeck's use of foreshadowing in the discussion of Chapter 3.
Here is one other thing to think about as you read the novel: Steinbeck has intended the book to be an allegory, a story in which the events and characters are symbols and in which a moral is implied. You'll learn more about Steinbeck's use of symbolism in the novel in the chapter-by-chapter discussion below.
Now that you have a little greater understanding of Steinbeck's motives and style, it's time to begin looking more closely at the story line of Of Mice and Men.