While reading John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, I noticed a peculiar repetition in chapter 4, where there are three mentions of the noise made by the horse's tackle.

It was Saturday night. Through the open door that led into the barn came the sound of moving horses, of feet stirring, of teeth champing on hay, of the rattle of halter chains.

He paused and looked toward the open door, for the horses were moving restlessly and the halter chains clinked.

And while she went through the barn, the halter chains rattled, and some horses snorted and some stamped their feet.

This seems an odd detail for a novella which is mostly dialogue and was, in fact, originally written with an eye to it being a play script. So it seems likely the repeat mention serves some purpose to the themes of the story. What is it?

  • 1
    Halters jingling are a sound effect that could easily be achieved in a play. Maybe the explanation is simply that Steinbeck kept it when he changed the story to prose.
    – Peter Shor
    Dec 22, 2023 at 18:43
  • @PeterShor if that's the case, then the question becomes what purpose do they serve in the play
    – Matt Thrower
    Dec 22, 2023 at 18:51

1 Answer 1


John Steinbeck wrote the book as a "novel-play". Wikipedia says

it is intended to be both a novella and a script for a play. ... Steinbeck wanted to write a novel that could be played from its lines, or a play that could be read like a novel.

In a play, if there's a building onstage that is supposed to be a stable, how do you indicate this to your audience? You absolutely don't want to use live horses onstage—they're way too much trouble. And fake horses look fake. But you can manage horse sounds — jingling harnesses, snorting, foot-stamping, hay-munching, etc. You could also convey that it is a stable through dialog, but that would not have as much verisimilitude.

In the script for a play, rather than a novel-play, these would be stage directions. For this novel-play, Steinbeck incorporated them into the text.

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