Analyzing Steinbeck's Theme of Power vs. Powerlessness

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SWBAT determine a theme and analyze in detail its development over the course of the story by comparing personal experiences with those of characters in Of Mice and Men. SWBAT identify, analyze, and apply knowledge of the elements of characterization in fiction by using a graphic organizer to locate evidence from the text.

Big Idea

How does Racism and Power versus Powerlessness demonstrate underdog themes?


10 minutes

I want my students to make a meaningful connection to the theme power versus powerless by asking them to write about a situation in which they felt powerless, had no control and had to obey someone else’s orders.  I ask them to answer these questions as well:

  • How did it make you feel at the time?  
  • What do you think the person “in power” in that situation was thinking or feeling?

After giving them some time to complete their written responses in their journals, I facilitate a volunteer sharing with the class SL.9-10.1.

I then explain that the purpose of today’s lesson is to explore the theme of power vs. powerlessness, which was a large component of all of Steinbeck’s writing. I then ask what comes to mind when they hear the word underdog?  I then say that Steinbeck always wanted to show what it was like to be the underdog.


Building Knowledge

25 minutes

To check for their retention of prior knowledge,  I begin by quickly reviewing the theme we covered during a previous day's lesson,  individual vs. community.  I then explain that there is another important character that we will analyze today by filling out a characterization organizer who the author portrays as an underdog if not the major underdog in the story!

I then pass out the Power vs. Powerlessness Images sheet and explain that they will be using it for responses on images they will be seeing on a Power versus Powerlessness power point. I now show images from hip-hop artists, ads, etc. which depict power and powerlessness. Students are asked to  identify the source of power in each image or "What is the image’s message?"

Students look at images that show a fist of money, a dominating hockey player,  big guy next to an anorexic girl, mother and child, ones in which certain people are empowered and others not, the way some buildings are meant to represent power, and small and large cars. I also include images of power from the past. What did the Romans do to intimidate others?  Medieval warrior? I want them to analyze what did power look like throughout the ages?  What images of power persist in our media? World? School?  

The reason I ask students to analyze these images of power versus powerless is to help them conceptualize the struggles that occur in our society and therefore transition their analysis to Steinbeck's portrayal of the powerful and powerless during the time period his novella takes place.  Making learning relevant to a students life helps to build the important bridge that occurs when synthesizing the information being taught. (RL.9-10.2)

Next I lead a group discussion on the images and the messages they sending.  After the discussion and as a mental transition into the next activity, I show a short illustrated video of Chapter 4 which will benefit those who need further clarification of the sequence of events and characters help to advance the plot.


Student Learning Activity

30 minutes
Students are given a Theme organizer and instructed to now identify evidence from chapter 4 of the theme Power vs. Powerlessness.
I first model finding evidence by explaining that Steinbeck portrays Crooks as a victim of racism.  I ask students why they think Crooks is so mean to others?  I want them to understand how racism is a big part of Crooks being powerless and angry because of the way he has been treated by others (RL.9-10.3).
Using my docucamera I then give the example of Curly's wife entering Crook's room making fun of him, Lennie and Candy by mocking them as “a nigger an’ a dum-dum and a lousy ol’ sheep.” I write this quote in one of the theme boxes with the page number and explain that this quote demonstrates the predatory nature of the ranch-hands’ world.  
I then ask why they think Curly's wife, who has little or no power on this ranch of all men, would make fun of the others who are also powerless?  The understanding I'm looking for is that not only will the strong attack the weak but the weak will attack the weaker. 
Students work independently or with a partner filling out their Theme organizer to determine a central idea of the chapter and to analyze in detail its development as I circulate among the class checking understanding and keeping my students focused on the task RL.9-10.2.  

Wrap Up

10 minutes

Ticket to Leave

For the last 10 minutes of class, I go around the room and ask each student to give one example of power and powerlessness in the text (RL.9-10.2) including the quote, page number and brief explanation of why they chose it  RL.9-10.1.

As they leave, I give them a Chapter 4 Quiz Of Mice and Men take home quiz for homework to help them maintain momentum with of themes, plot, and characters development.