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snake glided smoothly up the pool, twisting its periscope head from
side to side; and it swam the length of the pool and came to the
legs of a motionless heron that stood in the shallows. A silent
head and beak lanced down and plucked it out by the head, and the
beak swallowed the little snake while its tail waved frantically.
The rich imagery with which Steinbeck
begins Section 6, the powerful conclusion,
evokes the novella’s dominant themes. After killing Curley’s wife,
Lennie returns to the clearing that he and George designate, at
the beginning of the book, as a meeting place should they be separated
or run into trouble. Here Steinbeck describes much of the natural
splendor as revealed in the opening pages of the work. The images
of the valley and mountains, the climbing sun, and the shaded pool
suggest a natural paradise, like the Garden of Eden. The reader’s
sense of return to a paradise of security and comfort is furthered
by the knowledge that George and Lennie have claimed this space
as a safe haven, a place to which they can return in times of trouble.
This paradise, however, is lost. The snake sliding through
the water recalls the conclusion of the story of Eden, in which
the forces of evil appeared as a snake and caused humanity’s fall
from grace. Steinbeck is a master at symbolism, and here he skillfully
employs both the snake and heron to emphasize the predatory nature
of the world and to foreshadow Lennie’s imminent death. The snake
that glides through the waters without harm at the beginning of
the story is now unsuspectingly snatched from the world of the living. Soon,
Lennie’s life will be taken from him, and he will be just as unsuspecting
as the snake when the final blow is delivered.
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