This GCSE English Literature quiz will challenge you on context in John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.
Context means the environment in which a text is written. This makes context in many ways very similar to setting. You might like to think of context as the author’s setting. Social issues, geographical location and political events together create the context of any particular text. Sometime issues and events from the author’s recent past have as much effect on a text as those which occurred nearer to the time of writing. Context also includes any personal beliefs of the author which help to shape the work.
Understanding the context of a fictional work is important because of the effects which this has on the meaning of text. The relationship between text and context is not always straightforward, however.
History itself is complex and does not dictate the meaning of any text. Instead, the context of a work is mediated through the mind and aims of the author. In Of Mice and Men, for example, Steinbeck aimed not to address recent labour unrest directly, as he would in other works of fiction, instead attempting to create an almost timeless vision of human solitude.
Researching a work’s context will help you to develop a deeper understanding. What was happening at the time the text was written? Understanding context can help you better understand the meaning of the text or of the issues it raises. Pay especially close attention to the text when writing about context. What does the text itself say about history, about politics, or about social issues? Compare your knowledge of historical context to whatever the text says about these issues.
Remember, however, that any work of art exists beyond its context and good texts continue creating meaning long after the time when they are written.
Remember to distinguish between the setting of the text and its context. Even a novel such as Of Mice and Men, which is set in a time and place very close to that when it was written, will be affected by the difference between setting and context.
Research the context of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, remembering everything you have learned in English lessons, and try these questions to see how much you know.