Trials Based on "Of Mice and Men" Test Students’ Understanding of Character Relationships
What happens after George Milton shoots Lennie Small, the constant companion whom he loves, in the back of the head at the end of the novel, Of Mice and Men? John Steinbeck doesn't tell us.
Our Eighth Grade English students in 8Blue and 8Gold decided to find out. They came to their own verdicts in Court Room 420, with English teacher and Honorable Judge Susan Lukas presiding over the trial of George Milton. Students took on the roles of prosecuting attorneys, defense attorneys, witnesses, court reporters, jurors, bailiffs, and, of course, George himself.
In preparation for the trial, the boys were assigned unique writing assignments for their specific roles. The prosecution and defense wrote opening and closing arguments; witnesses wrote statements from their character’s view of the situation, including poignant quotations; jurors proved their impartiality through a statement giving evidence from both sides; and the court reporter wrote a newspaper article providing context for the trial.
On the day of the trial, students came dressed for their part and displayed a truly impressive mastery of the text, extending beyond general concepts to a deep engagement with the plot and characters. On the stand, the prosecution and defense displayed an understanding of the ethical and legal issues at play, and the witnesses were quick to answer with evidence backing their statements. The jury deliberated and subsequently found George Milton of both 8Blue and 8Gold innocent of Murder in the 1st Degree and Murder in the 3rd Degree.
George Milton is a poor ranch hand who does the best to take care of mentally-challenged Lennie – including, ultimately, killing Lennie to spare him an even worse fate. In the novel, the reader sympathizes with George’s actions. But, in reality, the law may not have been on his side. Ms. Lukas and her students discussed the conflict that this created for them when sentencing George during their mock trial, and the conflicting emotions they felt as readers.
Said Ms. Lukas, “Teaching this book is part of a three-part series in English class this year. We read The Hate U Give, Witness, and, now, Of Mice and Men. All of these books deal with issues of power and marginalization. These books have lain a great foundation to talk about these issues in a class and how they relate to current events today.”