Power, Alienation, and The American Dream in Of Mice and Men and The Central Park Five

Students explore the American Dream and the complexity of power and its relationship to otherness through their reading of Steinbeck’s novella and excerpts of The Central Park Five and When They See Us



Unit 2

9th Grade

Unit Summary

“They argue that his [Reyes] culpability does nothing to contradict the guilty
verdicts of the five young men, despite the overwhelming forensic evidence
 and the teenagers’ confused and contradictory confessions.”
--from the Preface of The Central Park Five

In Unit 2, students will explore the complexity of power and its relationship to otherness and the American Dream through their reading of Steinbeck’s novella, Of Mice and Men, excerpts of Sarah Burns’s The Central Park Five, and excerpts of Ava Duvernay’s When They See Us.  Throughout the unit, students will Close Read nonfiction to identify an author’s argument and unpack the ways in which authors develop complex arguments, Close Read poetry to examine how writers use stylistic elements and draw conclusions about the overall meaning of the work, and Close Read a novella to examine how Steinbeck develops characters and the role that conflict plays in the text.

This unit starts with a miniature debate around power dynamics and otherness in which students begin to explore the extent to which a person with an intellectual disability is responsible for their actions and words, and if deemed responsible by others, the extent to which it is just. To introduce this concept, the unit begins with several chapters from The Central Park Five, establishing the Marxist lens through which students should mostly analyze Of Mice and Men and other supplemental texts featured in the unit. In addition, this unit will also introduce students to a feminist lens so that they have a lens in which to explore Curley’s wife, the only female character in the novel. Through this exploration of her character, students will consider how female characters are treated and how they exercise power or lack power.

This unit will emphasize John Steinbeck’s portrayal of the “other”: those on the fringes of society. More specifically, students will analyze the following characters as others—Crooks, Lennie, Candy, and Curley’s wife as others— and consider Steinbeck’s purpose in making decisions about the othered characters he develops and the message he conveys through said decisions.

Furthermore, this unit will offer students daily opportunities to engage in discourse, craft written interpretations of text, and synthesize themes across texts.

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Unit Syllabus

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Texts and Materials

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Supporting Materials


This assessment accompanies Unit 2 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Key Knowledge

Essential Questions


  • How does friendship influence who we are and what we become?
  • What is the relationship between power dynamics, otherness, and the American Dream?
  • What are the drawbacks of Of Mice and Men? In what ways might this text be problematic related to gender, power, disability, and equity?


  • What role does conflict play in a novel? How does the author use it to establish mood? Characterization? Theme?
  • How does an author use rhetorical features and stylistic elements to contribute to the meaning of an argument?


In order to successfully teach this unit, you must be intellectually prepared at the highest level, which means reading and analyzing all unit texts before launching the unit and understanding the major themes the authors communicate through their texts. By the time your students finish reading this text, they should be able to articulate and explain the major themes the authors communicate through their texts related to the following thematic topics as they uncover them organically through reading, writing, and discourse. While there is no one correct thematic statement for each major topic discussed in the unit texts, there are accurate (evidence-based) and inaccurate (non–evidence-based) interpretations of what the authors are arguing. Below are some exemplar thematic statements.

  • Friendship and Companionship: Even in an American society that values independence, people need friendship and companionship. During a time like the Great Depression, friendship and compassion were essential, motivating people to survive and giving them a stronger sense of belonging and identity.
  • Otherness: Being an other means that a person is on the fringes of society.  Others are often powerless and voiceless and find individual identity and a sense of belonging within a group of similar people.
  • Man versus Nature: Nature remains and survives even as humans die.
  • The American Dream: The American Dream is an ideal; it is unattainable for those people who are othered and on the fringes of society.



admissible aloof belligerently bemused brusquely console crestfallen disarming ego elicit entranced gregarious implicated impassioned inconclusive indignation indignation juncture mollify morose pantomime pugnacious recumbent reverently receptive resignedly scornful skeptically subsided subdued

Literary Term

character relationships conflict diction imagery mood setting symbol syntax tone

To see all the vocabulary for Unit 2, view our 9th Grade Vocabulary Glossary.

Lesson Map

Common Core Standards

Core Standards


Supporting Standards


Pre-AP English Standards

Core Standards

EU 1.2
EU 1.3
EU 1.4
EU 2.2
EU 2.3
EU 3.3
EU 5.1
LO 1.1A
LO 1.2A
LO 1.2B
LO 1.3A
LO 1.3B
LO 1.4A
LO 1.4B
LO 2.2A
LO 2.2B
LO 2.2C
LO 2.3A
LO 2.3B
LO 2.3C
LO 2.3D
LO 5.1A
LO 5.1B

Supporting Standards

LO 2.2A
LO 2.2B
LO 2.2C
LO 2.3A
LO 2.3B
LO 2.3C
LO 5.1A
LO 5.1B
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Unit 1

Visibility & Invisibility in Short Texts


Unit 3

Coming of Age and Patriarchy in Dominicana