Of Mice and Men - Bunkhouse Analysis

The Bleak Bunkhouse in Of Mice and Men

The Bunkhouse

Steinbeck presents the bunkhouse as a drab, lifeless construction where the men exist rather than live. The opening sentence of the second chapter immediately establishes the cheerless mood very effectively: “the bunkhouse was a long, rectangular building”.

The abruptness of the simple declarative emphasises that the “building” is merely functional by excluding any warmth or detail. The way Steinbeck begins the sentence with “bunkhouse” and ends the statement with the noun “building” reinforces its lack of emotion.

The terse description of the bunkhouse has a flat, impersonal rhythm. This is achieved through the use of nasal consonance in “bunkhouse”, “long”, “rectangular” and “building”, which limits the description to a monotone, and the alliteration of /b/ at the start and end of the sentence enclosing the image so there is no melody.

The two adjectives “long” and “rectangular” refer to its geometry rather than any human warmth. However, the elongated vowel sound in “long”, the polysyllabic “rectangular” and the comma that creates a deliberate pause between the two words also helps maintain a tedious tone.

Unfortunately, the dreary bunkhouse is at the centre of the rancher’s lives and becomes a symbol for their insignificant existence.

The Interior

The next sentence begins the description “inside” the bunkhouse. Steinbeck mentions that the “walls were whitewashed”. Whitewash is a cheap, watered-down paint so it is a careless and unimpressive attempt to brighten the men’s world. This indifference is reinforced by the fact the “floor” is “unpainted”. The negative prefix emphasises the lack of homely comfort paint would add to the room.

Geometry

Steinbeck focuses on the geometry of the bunkhouse. It is, of course, “long” and “rectangular”, but the “door”, “bunks”, “apple box” and “shelves” are all of a similar shape. There is also the reference to buildings three “small, square windows”. The sibilance obviously emphasises their tightness. Lastly, the men have “boxes” to sit on and a “big square table” to play cards. These hard-edged right angles are ubiquitous which suggests the drabness is inescapable. There is no softness or comfort in their world.

The writer also includes several numbers in the description. He refers to the “three walls” and the door on the “fourth”. The bunkhouse contains “eight bunks” with “five of them made up with blankets” but the “other three” were “showing their burlap ticking”. Finally, the apple boxes nailed to the walls created “two shelves” for the “personal belongings” of the men. By including these references to numbers, Steinbeck suggests the men are merely numbers on the ranch and are instantly replaceable.

Even the detailed list of “personal belongings” has a perfunctory tone. Their “soap”, “talcum powder”, “razors”, “combs” and “neck ties” could belong to anybody and are easily discarded.

The Bunkhouse:

“The bunkhouse was a long, rectangular building. Inside, the walls were whitewashed and the floor unpainted. In three walls there were small, square windows, and in the fourth, a solid door with a wooden latch. Against the walls were eight bunks, five of them made up with blankets and the other three showing their burlap ticking. Over each bunk there was nailed an apple box with the opening forward so that it made two shelves for the personal belongings of the occupant of the bunk. And these shelves were loaded with little articles, soap and talcum powder, razors and those Western magazines ranch men love to read and scoff at and secretly believe. And there were medicines on the shelves, and little vials, combs; and from nails on the box sides, a few neckties. Near one wall there was a black cast-iron stove, its stovepipe going straight up through the ceiling. In the middle of the room stood a big square table littered with playing cards, and around it were grouped boxes for the players to sit on.

At about ten o’clock in the morning the sun threw a bright dust-laden bar through one of the side windows, and in and out of the beam flies shot like rushing stars.”

The next paragraph is a little more poetic. It describes how the “sun threw a bright dust-laden bar through one of the side windows” and the way “flies shot like rushing stars” through the beams of light.

The light breaking almost accidently into the room could represent the glimmer of hope in the men’s world. However, it occurs “at about ten o’clock in the morning” and the ranchers are probably outside “bucking barley” at this time so they would miss its warmth. They only see darkness.

The “beam” is described as “bright” but “dust-laden”. Even that light is tainted.

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