I had a marvellous moment in class last week. I discovered something new about a book that I thought I knew inside out, a book that I’d taught many times and read cover to cover on many, many occasions.
We were revising Of Mice and Men, in preparation for the prose exam next week. Our focus for the lesson was the significance of human frailty, how frailty manifests itself in the novel and what Steinbeck might be teaching us.
It was a pretty bog standard lesson until boy at the back, studious, quiet, unassuming boy at the back, asked me a question:
“Sir, when Carlson is describing how he would kill the dog, why does he point with his toe?”
“What?” I said . “Really? Wow, I’ve never noticed that before. I’m not sure, what do you think?”
Now, before I go off on one, I’m well aware this could be a severe case of the over exuberant English teacher, who infers things that simply aren’t there, who lectures passionately about the symbolic importance of a blue curtain when really, it’s just a blue curtain. But, for the rest of that day I couldn’t stop thinking about that quote and how negligent I must have been to read those words so many times without really reading them. Could there be a more derisive and uncaring gesture to use when discussing the death of Candy’s dearest friend? Isn’t Carlson’s casual gesture an infuriating example of how little he values Candy’s companion, and Candy too? Could there be a better quote to demonstrate the disregard society has towards its frailest members?
So went our discussion. And then the lesson ended. But for the rest of that day, and for days after, I was able reflect back on the wonderful way that stories can surprise us, even after years of teaching them. Like many other English teachers, I will continue to read Of Mice and Men with my KS3 students. I look forward to many more suprises.
Candy looked helplessly at him, for Slim’s opinions were law. “Maybe it’d hurt him,” he suggested. “I don’t mind takin’ care of him.”
Carlson said, “The way I’d shoot him, he wouldn’t feel nothing. I’d put the gun right there.” He pointed with his toe. “Right back of the head. He wouldn’t even quiver.”
Candy looked for help from face to face.