Q: How do you write effectively about Slim’s character in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men?
A: The character of Slim in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men provides the reader with a figure who is consistently trustworthy and fair. His presence in the novel acts as a yardstick of relative ‘normality’ by which we can read other characters.
In a novel concerned with the dangers and cruelties of reaction, Slim seems reflective, thoughtful and balanced. He is a figure of stability.
In a fallen world, where George and Lennie dream of recapturing the lost Eden, through their special dream farm, Slim seems a detached ‘God-like’ figure who tries to maintain a certain stability and respectfulness among his men at the ranch.
Slim’s kindness to George after the death of Lennie suggests that George may have gained the support of a friend who is his equal in terms of intelligence, maturity and sensitivity. George’s isolation after killing his friend, is thus alleviated by Slim’s knowing intervention and care. Think how bleak the novel would seem if we were only left with the careless, unknowing words of Curley and Carlsson at the novel’s end , without the kindly conduct of Slim towards a grieving George.
Thus Slim is very important in terms of the novel’s possibly hopeful resolution after the tragedy of Lennie’s death and without him, all would look very lonely indeed for George.
This short exploration of the presentation of Slim in Of Mice and Men will look at three quotations that add to the interesting characterization of Slim by Steinbeck’s third person narrator.
Remember characterization works like a series of ” real’ encounters. The reader accumulates a series of ideas about a character and eventually may arrive at some ‘verdict’ . Steinbeck deliberately varies the details about his characters in Of Mice and men so that the characters seem ‘real’ and complex-like ‘real’ life!
The reader’s first experience of Slim is as a disembodied voice as he greets the trespassing figure of Curley’s wife after has come to inspect the ‘new boys’ George and Lennie as they settle into the bunk house. The contrast between the ‘girl‘ who comes to take the ‘sunlight’ away from the friendship between George and Lennie, and the diplomatic good sense of Slim instantly recommends him to the read even before we actually meet him.
”Slim’s voice came through the door.’Hi, Good Lookin”
‘I’m trying to find Curley, Slim.’
‘Well, you ain’t tryin’ very hard.I seen him goin’ in your house.’
She was suddenly very apprehensive. ‘Bye Boys.’
This is a revealing exchange as Slim’s behaviour toward’s Curley’s wife indicates both protectiveness and care. Slim is assured enough of his position in the ranch to banter in a flattering way with the attention seeking figure of Curley’s needy, lonely wife. He is momentarily giving her the attention she craves.
But he is also aware of the danger her flirtatious behaviour poses to his men and the stability of the ranch. So he seeks to remove her from the area, without offending her. Perhaps he is also aware of her difficult marriage to the violent Curley and he is trying to help her too, through this gentle rebuttal of her lame excuse for lingering around the bunkhouse.
Curley’s wife does know that this is very much a ‘safe’ form of banter, as she also tries to apologize to Slim for her trespassing into the ranch hands’ bunk house.
Hence Slim’s reply above, is an ironic and subtle warning about her behaviour and also of her personal danger if she is discovered in such a compromising place by her husband Curley.
Curley’s wife takes immediate heed of the warning and hurries away:’suddenly apprehensive ’ This seems to indicate her own fear of Curley perhaps because of his temper and predilection for violence. Presumably she is also indebted to Slim for this gentle, yet pointed warning.
Slim’s status is therefore confirmed-from the beginning as an intelligent and caring leader whose opinions are to be trusted and respected.
Always look at the ‘arrival’ of a character in a text as this ‘entrance’ offers a context by which we can read their likely development and role.
A little later in the novel when Slim’s ‘calm and God-like eyes’ are ‘fastened’ on George during a subsequent conversation in the bunk house, they encourage the latter to talk about the origins of his relationship with Lennie.
George’s spontaneous trust of Slim seems the outcome of Slim’s unusually developed sensitivity to others, something all the more special as this time and setting seem to produce characters who are selfish and defensive, rather than emotionally nurturing.
Interestingly, although the description of Slim’s’God-like eyes’ eyes, is delivered from the third person narrator, the view also seems to reflect the opinons of the other ranch hands. This reference emphasizes Slim’s authority and exceptional status on the ranch. He seems omniscient in a very flawed world. His ‘hatchet face was ageless.’ Slim cannot be quantified or cheaply ‘known’. He represents something different and special on the ranch, something wise and mature, though tough too as the description suggests.
This device also allows the back story about Lennie to unfold in a natural way, allowing the reader to learn about Lennie’s Aunt Clara and the incident at Weed without any obviously clumsy narrative ‘memory’.
The final glimpse we have of Slim I have mentioned briefly in my introduction to this short reading of Slim’s character.
For when George kills Lennie in order to protect him from Curley’s vindictive rage, Slim recognizes the real importance of what George has had to do and he offers George support where Curley and Carlson remain ignorantly insensitive.
Slim twitched George’s elbow…
”George let himself be helped to his feet.’Yeah, a drink.’
Slim said, ‘You hadda George. I swear you hadda. Come on with me.’ He led George into the entrance of the trail and up toward the highway.’
Slim assists George here, reversing the unequal dependency of Lennie on George. The repetition of ‘hadda’ underlines Slim’s knowledge of what George felt beholden to do. Slim’s sensitivity to George’s grief and horror is in direct contrast to the heartless insensitivity of Steinbeck ending to the novel where Carlson says to Curley: ‘What the hell is eatin’ them two guys?’
Imagine if George had no friend like Slim and was left alone with these two men for comfort? The novel would have felt very hellish and hopeless surely?
By contrast also Slim leads George ‘up’ suggesting he is leaving the hellish past behind and moving towards something more positive and lighter. We feel that Slim’s friendship with George is a relationship between equals and could lead to a better future for both of them, for perhaps even Slim with his secure status on the ranch has needed a colleague on his emotional and intellectual level?
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