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Question A- How does the extract improve the reader’s understanding of Slim?
The passage immediately introduces Slim as an authoritative and almost regal member of the ranch: “He moved with a majesty only achieved by royalty and master craftsmen.” Most of the men working on the ranch are transient and poor and, although Slim is no exception, he does not share their careless and selfish attitudes. Slim also accepts his authority and responsibilities, despite the fact that he would have little respect outside of the ranch, which, ironically, places him in high standing on the ranch. This is emphasized by the admiration and respect given to him by the others: “…the prince of the ranch”.
He is awarded a title by the others due to the fact that they do not see him as equal to them; they view him as an almost mythical person of extreme benevolence and compassion. They therefore give him more attention and hold him higher esteem than they do with anyone else on the ranch, meaning that Slim has, in the men’s opinions; become the unofficial leader of the ranch. Furthermore, the passage describes Slim as something similar to a divine being: “His hatchet face was ageless”. This suggests that, to the others, Slim is god-like and unique in his ability to never fail physically and consequently never to suffer the pain, humiliation and uselessness anyone else would be forced into, as demonstrated by Candy.
Despite all of the adoration and respect surrounding Slim, it is clear to the reader that his future is that of the other men, as shown in the statement: ‘Like the others he wore blue jeans and a short denim jacket.’ Slim is like every other worker on the ranch; he is exactly as lonely and incomplete as they are, symbolised by his clothing, and he has to cope with the same problems. The reader is shown the reality before the idolised view, but it makes the build-up of his prowess and pre-eminence all the more staggering. It becomes apparent that despite all of the idolisation and respect that surrounds Slim, he will eventually succumb to his fate and become like Candy, useless and alone.
Slim is displayed with an aura around him of intelligence and importance that is felt by everyone at the ranch: “There was a gravity in his manner and a quiet so profound that all talk stopped when he spoke.” Slim is constantly presented as a stark difference to the other characters, someone to idealise and appears as something abnormal yet desired by them all. He becomes the other character’s paragon of perfection, everything they had wished to be.
Similarly, he is shown to be considered omniscient by the others on the ranch: “His ear heard more and was said to him, and his slow speech had overtones not of thought, but of understanding beyond thought.” Slim is revered by the others as someone far beyond their comprehension as well as something they could only wish to be. They are all lonely and so connect to Slim as someone who they believe could protect them and could advise them without judging or pitying them; in his understanding of them, he becomes their guide and protector.
Contrastingly, Steinbeck gives his character a very real and human nature to him as well: “‘It’s brigther’n a bitch outside,’ he said gently.” It is easy for the reader to become swept up in the exaggerated, romanticised and dramatised version of Slim but the reader is shocked by the simplicity of Slim’s mannerisms and behaviour, but this shock is not unpleasant. The contradiction throws the reader, but also shares with them the characters’ ability to befriend Slim despite his apparent superiority and further shows that despite his air of mystery and omniscience, he is similar to the other men.
How does Steinbeck use the character of Slim to convey ideas and themes in the novel?
Loneliness and isolation is despairingly apparent throughout the novel and Slim is used to highlight it: “Slim came directly to George and sat down beside him, sat very close.” Steinbeck uses Slim as a protector of George and a life line to redeem him, to accent the fact the in the aftermath of Lennie’s execution; George is then as completely alone as everyone else on the ranch and like the other transient workers during that time period. Slim is used throughout the novel to show the need for hope during the Great Depression, as shown when he comforts George.
Slim is also used to show the inevitable loss of hope and the realisation that many cannot achieve their ‘American dream’: “You hadda, George. I swear you hadda.” The speech here is used as comfort to George after he shoots Lennie, but it also an equivocation and implies that George never really had an opportunity to achieve his and Lennie’s ‘American dream’, that none of the characters in the novel did and that they would always end up alone, no matter how hard they fight to change this.
Furthermore, Slim’s character is used to display the harsh reality of the world and displays the efficient and unsentimental view of a ranch: “Candy looked a very long time at Slim to try to find some reversal. And Slim gave him none.” The cruel reality of a world where worth is decided by a single party and skills have no sway over events appears as a strange concept to the reader and Slim is used to demonstrate that it is necessary for him to pass judgement over the other men on the ranch and the events of the novel.
Slim is displayed as the embodiment of strength and skill in the novel: “…capable of driving ten, sixteen, even twenty mules with a single line to the leaders.” This shows that he has value to the ranch and that he is still capable of working for them successfully and while used to boast his abilities, this description of Slim is also used to show that characters in the novel and the transient workers of the time needed to be useful in order to stay on for work and to keep in high opinions of their employers and co-workers. In this, Slim is shown to be useful, and therefore have value because he is still young and fit enough to work.
Contrastingly, he is also shown to be limited and allows a shift in the good and evil balance: “You stay here with her then, Candy. The rest of us better get goin’.” Even though Slim’s abilities and influence are exaggerated by the imaginations of the men on the ranch, they are still real and if he had wished to stop Curley’s attempts to kill Lennie he probably would have succeeded. Steinbeck uses him here in the crucial moment that decides Lennie’s fate, to show that all evil needs to succeed is for good people not to stop it.