Slim: an analysis of the cowboy hero in Of Mice and Men

One of the reasons I love online books is because of the search facility. In one fell swoop, a search showed that Slim’s name appears 132 times in Of Mice and Men. That’s twice as many as Candy or Crooks, or even Curley’s wife or Curley himself. Of course, you’d expect George and Lennie to be the central characters with the most frequent mentions in the novella, but I wouldn’t have put Slim in the top five and I’ve read the book twenty five times. At least!

So…. Slim. After George and Lennie, perhaps Steinbeck’s third most important character. Of course, that doesn’t take into account all the other things he calls other people, or when it says ‘he’ in reference to a character, but it’s pretty telling.

So who is Slim? How do you go about an analysis of a character?

First you start with the background. Cowboys. This means you’ve got to have a pretty broad sense of ‘cowies’ – or cowboy movies. Of course, the Western doesn’t have much in common with Of Mice and Men, but Slim could have been lifted right out of the Western. In fact, the most famous cowboy actor of all, John Wayne, had his breakthrough role in Stagecoach playing the Ringo Kid only two years after Of Mice and Men was published.

So, if you had to sum up the cowboy hero, what would he be?

To me, he’d be an outlaw with a moral code all of his own. He might be a little lawless, like Robin Hood, but he knows good and he knows bad and he definitely sits on the good side. They’re the strong and silent type, someone deeply in touch with nature. Often they’re a loner, not caring about the solitude of the cowboy life. They might have a horse, like the Lone Ranger’s Tonto (more policeman on horseback than cowboy though) or Roy Rogers’ Trigger. Or a dog, like Bullet.  They suffer in silence, if they suffer at all, and they command respect, most notably from little boys. A cowboy is just. He’s fair. He’s righteous. It’s right in the way they stand, the way they move, the way they walk. They’re honest. They’re upright. They’re solid and unemotional. They’re chivalrous.

Here’s JW himself:

It’s funny, because in this advert for Gunsmoke, John Wayne reminds us of one of Slim’s roles… to be trustworthy. Because we trust him, we trust his judgement. What he says is law. So what he says about George and about Lennie, well, we trust his judgement. Just to be clear, though, Slim is NOT a cowboy. He doesn’t work with cows. He drives a team of horses though. And he exemplifies the cowboy archetype.

So, with all this background in mind, we then have to apply it to the novel.

Finding quotes to explore:

Think of what people say about them before we meet them: reputation prior to meeting them

Then look at the first scene with them

Then think of three key scenes with them

1. George opens up to Slim

2. Slim sorting out the aftermath of things, the dog, Curley’s hand, Lennie

3. Final scene

Pick out ALL the quotes you could use

Then work back. Cut them in half, then in half again, until you have about 10-15.

Any more is unmanageable and you won’t get them in the essay. Any fewer and your analysis won’t be well-rounded. You can always add a second quote to a first one that says the same thing.

If you can, use the online searchable version (CTRL+F on a PC, cmd F on a Mac or Alt, cmd, F) and then you can search really quickly and find EVERYTHING! It won’t tell you where it says ‘he’, or another name for the character, so you need to read around it.

Here’s a long list of about a quarter of the quotes in the novel that involve Slim or that say something important about him. There’s some page numbers here that kind of correspond to a version of the text.

Then you need to work back and pick out your shortlist of between 10-15. That’s a workable number for an essay. If it’s an exam, you can then learn these quotes. If it’s for controlled assessment, you need to be able to find them quickly.

Next time, I’ll show you how I go about putting these into an essay about Slim.

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