The Two Dogs

English essay on how Candy’s dog foreshadowed Lennie’s death in John Steinbeck’s book Of Mice and Men. Finished on December 14th, 2007.

Long before the death of Candy’s old dog, several references between the lines suggest its faith – as well as, later revealed, Lennie’s.

            The first time the dog is ever mentioned, on page 45, it is said in the first description that it “struggled lamely to the side of the room and lay down, grunting softly to himself”. Of course this clearly shows the state it is in; old, sick and tired of apparently everything. The state of the dog is again referred to by Carlson far later in the novella: “Got no teeth. He’s all stiff with rheumatism”. He uses this over and over again as a convincing argument for killing the dog, sending Candy on a guilt trip not to – “Well, you ain’t being kind to him keeping him alive”. The description Carlson gives can of course as well be an over-exaggeration since all he cares about in that moment is to receive allowance of executing the dog, but it obviously isn’t far from truth since Candy doesn’t stand a chance to protest.

            As the dog is old and useless on the ranch, it is but a companion and friend to the old swamper, and no one but him seems to think of him as more than a thing, especially Carlson as he asks Candy to take the dog’s life – saying “Why’n’t you shoot him, Candy?”, as if he was a thing.

            Most of the reasons of killing the dog are clearly selfish, even though Carlson – as pointed out – uses Candy’s emotions to make him agree. Carlson as well clearly had a bad day, with losing the horse shoe-pitching (“He don’t give nobody else a chance to win”), and that result in an irritated and easily annoyed mood that heavily advances when he sniff the smell of Candy’s dog, taking out the frustration on it and the owner (“God awmighty that dog stinks. Get him outta here, Candy!”). If Candy only had obeyed him, taking out the dog of the bunkhouse, none of the tragedies probably would’ve happened. This shows how the idea of killing the dog only is a temporary thought, something that doesn’t really matter to Carlson in the whole picture.

            As soon as Candy has been forced into an agreement, Slim and Carlson leads the dog “out into the darkness” which obviously refers to the physical darkness, but as well perhaps the dog’s future mental darkness – death. Then a sudden, silent tension reaches the bunk house as the rest of the gang, including Candy, sits still, awaiting the shot. As they hear it fire, no reaction is seen till Candy silently moves to his side on the bunk bed, facing the wall making the others unable to see him, and starts to sob.

            After the loss of tension, Candy says to George “I ought to have shot that dog myself […] I shouldn’t ought to have let no stranger shoot my dog” – even though none of them thought of it then, this seemingly innocent sentence eventually meant the end of Lennie’s life.

 

As George in the end of the novella shoots Lennie to his death, the reader can understand how John Steinbeck has placed several connections between this and the shooting of Candy’s dog.

            On several occasions, the dog and Lennie is shown to be comparable by similar description, and on other Lennie is given characteristics of an animal. An example of this is in the very first description of him in the novella’s beginning: “dragging his feet […] the way a bear drags his paws”. In the dog’s first description it is mentioned how it “struggled lamely”. For the first thing, Lennie is here being compared with an animal (a bear), and for the second, they are compared in a similar way. For both of them this is the first description, even though the dog’s comes about forty pages later.

            Another thing is that George was obviously affected or even inspired by the dog’s death as he decided to kill Lennie – yes, he decided to; at first it seemed to me like the idea was sudden and impulsive, but then I realised that he had stolen Carlson’s Luger about an hour earlier. As an example of this “inspiration”, there is a part (already pointed out nine lines above) where Candy explains the remorse of not helping the dog out of the painful world – a.k.a. killing it – himself. In the same sentence, he also says that he didn’t want a stranger to shoot his dog.

            Then turn Candy into George. Turn the dog into Lennie. Turn the stranger into Curley. Lennie has to die, and Lennie will die, for Curley has now dedicated his life to finding and killing him in order to avenge his wife’s death. And even if he fails, even if Lennie succeeds in escaping, the whole procedure will eventually restart; George knows it has happened before and that it will happen again, that Lennie’s state is chronic. If now Lennie has to die within the last few hours or so, then George realises, inspired by Candy’s words, that he doesn’t want Curley to kill him. Through the time they travelled together, he has thought of Lennie as his companion, but as well his responsibility and burden. He doesn’t want anyone else to ease his burden. This is his responsibility, and if he now fails keeping Lennie alive on a straight row, if he has to die, he wants to finish it off himself.

            Another “inspiration” to George may have been what Slim said in the scene where the dog’s future is to be decided, that if he got old and crippled, he’d want to be killed. Lennie is – mentally – useless and what can be defined as “crippled”, like the dog physically. And if Lennie isn’t able to decide to commit suicide, then isn’t that George’s job to decide for him?

            Even if a big part of the reasons George has of murdering him is to help him, sadly there are selfish reasons as well. Once again compare Lennie with Candy’s dog. Except of the unselfish reasons, the reasons of killing it was simple – it smelled. If you had an old pair of grown out socks that really smelled so it stank in the whole house, what would you do? Throw it away? They are of absolutely no use at all, and it’s even worse than that, they are going on your nerves since they really, really smell! Of course you’d throw them away. That’s exactly what’s going throw Carlson’s mind about the dog. It is of no use at all since it’s old and crippled. And it’s annoying. So there we go. Throw it away. Kill it.

            Like the dog, Lennie is of absolutely no use to anyone. Maybe he used to be a company to George, but presumably not anymore – George has obviously made lots of new friends on the ranch in the last few weeks, and he simply doesn’t need Lennie anymore. Lennie clearly makes lots of trouble to George, and it is especially clear when George sees the body of Curley’s wife and tells Candy to pretend like he hasn’t been there – for if the other knew he was one of first to see it, they might have thought he and Lennie did it together. It is early in the novella seen how Lennie’s wrongs often negatively affect George, as the two of them are forced into fleeing Weed. Lennie is of no use at all, and he is even worse, he destroys for others.

            Lennie is an old and crippled dog. And he smells.

 

George doesn’t have much of a role in the scene where Carlson and Candy debates on whether to kill the dog or not, since he is new on the ranch and knows he doesn’t have much to say that can make a difference. The first real thing he says in the scene is also to change subject – “Seen a guy in Weed got an Airedale could heard sheep. Learned it from other dogs”. It is obvious how he does feel he wants to help Candy, but can’t really stand up for him. However, I don’t think George really have an opinion in whether the dog is better of dead or alive; all he wants is to remain everything the way it is. For once, everything is starting to get better for him and Lennie, and he feels that every change can destroy everything.

In the same way, George for long hesitated before finally killing Lennie, not only in the end, standing there with Carlson’s shotgun, but all through their lives. He kills him at first when he has to, when he knows that Curley will kill him anyway. Even though he wasn’t the killer of the dog, he hesitated and tried to stop the shooting by changing subject – I think he knew that the dog sooner or later was going to be shot, but that he, naive as a child, was trying to postpone it for as long as he could, in the same way as he postponed Lennie’s death.

 

In the killing of Candy’s dog, Slim supports Carlson, and in a way the same is done with Lennie. Slim is the only one who in the in the final scene understands what happened between George and Lennie. But he doesn’t call in a sheriff to arrest George for murder; he pretends to believe how Lennie was the one to steal Carlson’s Luger, and that George only killed him in self defence. As Slim and George walks off to have a drink, the reader understand that beyond the tragedies that coloured the book’s pages red, there lies a brand new friendship.

            While he understands what happened, Carlson still hasn’t understood a bit of the truth, believing George’s lies about self-defence. Here, I think Carlson represents the majority of humanity and its blindness it is towards war, segregation, racism, animal cruelty and other cruelties in the world. To me, Carlson’s final comment is like a conclusion on the whole novella, all the inner meanings and hidden messages, everything Steinbeck wants to show with it.

 

Even though Lennie’s death at first seems unnecessary and tragic, you realise that he maybe had to go, that the world now is better for everyone, especially with George’s and Slim’s sudden friendship. Of Mice and Men is to me a novella where there is a fine line between friendship and hatred as well as good and evil. In the end of it, I was shocked to read about George killing Lennie, as he to me definitely was the good, but suddenly turned evil – then I realised how this actually instead showed the potential of his goodness.

            That Slim helped in the killing of the dog at first may seem not to fit in with his character and the description of his status almost being god-like, but I think Steinbeck had him performing this role to show the every day society. Everyone can kill, everyone kills. That he can do it no matter how high status he has among the others on the ranch refers to how exactly everyone does it, no matter who they are. And with “kill” I don’t mean killing other humans, or necessarily not even killing other animals, but to hurt, let down, and such. I think that the underlying message for this might be something like that everyone kill, everyone will kill always kill and this will always be this way – something that refers to the meaning of the title. “The best laid schemes of mice and men often goes askew”, the sentence of a Scottish poem (here translated to modern English) from which the title “Of Mice and Men” origins, means that whatever we do, no matter how hard we try, it will all go wrong in the end. And this will never stop. Slim is, however, shown to be a bit shaken as he goes out with Carlson to shoot the dog, which shows that there might maybe be a hope somewhere in the world. Maybe, the best laid schemes one day won’t go askew.

 

Nearby where Lennie sits by the river waiting for George, a play is performed before us. The scene about the heron and the two water snakes easily sticks out from the rest, since it is one out of few scenes not at all affected by humans – it is about other animals only, while the rest of the novella has been about humans.

            I believe there is a connection between this scene and the ending of the novella; I think the heron is supposed to be compared to the world, and the first water snake, that is killed, Lennie. As the world indirectly kills Lennie, friends of him are saved – as mentioned before, Lennie’s death is to save the rest; he is one that has to go. It is however confusing to me how it is his friends that are his enemies in Lennie’s case, and still it isn’t another water snake that kills it, but a heron. This leads me into wondering if it is this way because it would be too unrealistic having a water snake killing one of it’s kind, or is it because I am totally wrong – a question to which I can’t find an answer.

 

After the scene with the heron and the water snakes, Lennie is starting to hallucinate. The first hallucination is his dead Aunt Clara (“And then out of Lennie’s head there came a little fat old woman”), who spoke to him in his own voice, over and over again telling him about his wrongs (“You do bad things”) and about how nice George has been to him all along, despite how he returned the favours (“Min´ George because he’s such a nice fella an’ good to you”). She also tells him how he, no matter what he promises now, never actually will leave George to live independently in a cave (“You jus’ say that, you’re always just saying that, an’ you know sonofabitching well you ain’t ever gonna do it”). After that, Aunt Clara is replaced by a big rabbit (“Aunt Clara was gone, and out of Lennie’s head there came a gigantic rabbit”) who in the same voice tells him that he’ll never ever be able to tend rabbits (“You ain’t fit to lick the boots of no rabbit”). It then starts telling him about what George will do to him when he finds him (“He’s gonna beat the hell outta you with a stick”).

            These visions are obviously sign’s of Lennie’s mental state of paranoia and schizophrenia. Aunt Clara presumably was the one who back in the old days always yelled at Lennie when he did something wrong, and therefore she is the one he now has to face when he has done something terribly bad – killing Curley’s wife. That she (and later also the rabbit) talks in his voice is obviously a sign for how he can’t separate different persons from each others, and that this is the voice he is used to. What Aunt Clara and the rabbit tells Lennie is exactly what he deep inside knows or fears – that George sooner or later will leave him, and that he will hurt him or at least not let him tend the rabbits. In the end he also turns out to be right, and even worse; George doesn’t only hurt him, but kills him, and then leaves him. Death is clearly something that Lennie hardly can cope with, and that has been shown several times throughout the novella: he doesn’t think much of food as a life preserver, as he thinks he easily can survive alone in a cave. He also has killed several mice and a puppy for petting them too hard, as well as Curley’s wife. When he had the fight with Curley’s wife that ended with her being killed, he at first thought that her sudden stillness meant that she started to obey his orders of silence. In the same way, he underexaggerates what George will do to him, even though he understands he will do something. That he all along keeps arguing with the two characters (“I’ve knew George since – I forget when – and he ain’t never raised his han’ to me with a stick. He’s nice to me. He ain’t gonna be mean”) is another sign on his confusion. When he can’t agree with himself on how things are and what George is going to do with him, he creates another character to argue with.

            Aunt Clara is as mentioned replaced with the rabbit as Lennie starts thinking of rabbits (“George ain’t gonna let me tend no rabbits now”), which makes it clearer how what he sees is in direct combination with his mind.

 

When George comes to kill Lennie where he sits by the river, there is a calm and quiet feeling about him, and at first he doesn’t say much. He lies to Lennie, telling him that he is not going to leave him, that he will stay by his side. When Lennie happily answers “I knowed it, you ain’t that kind” he doesn’t answer. It is clear how everything’s not right with George, and that he’s not telling Lennie the complete truth. Lennie seems to notice this, and his happiness soon fades as he realises that something is wrong when George don’t start to yell at him. Over and over again, he reminds George of the bad thing he’s done: “George, I done another bad thing […] George, ain’t you gonna give me hell?”. At last, George is forced to start yelling at him, and Lennie keeps encouraging him (“Go on, George”). Then the conversation turns into George yet another time telling the story about their future life, with the rabbits and how they life “on the fatta the land”. Obviously, he tells the story to comfort, assuring him that everything is normal and that nothing is going to change despite what he did; they will still get their own grounds and he will still get to tend the rabbits.

            It is obvious how George is nervous since he several times stops, and as he says “Take off your hat, Lennie”, his voice is shaking (“He said shakily”). He has the excuse that “the air feels fine” but presumably he don’t want it to be in the way when he shoots him in the back of his head further on. He then asks him to look across the river (“Look acrost the river, Lennie, an’ I’ll tell you so you can almost see it”) – so he can’t see how George prepares the shotgun he stole from Carlson. He then stands silent with the safety snapped off and holds the shotgun behind Lennie. He clearly hesitates (“George raised the gun and his hand shook, and he dropped his hand to the ground again”) but is in a way encouraged to continue by Lennie, as he keeps asking him to “go on”; even though Lennie means the story, of course it is misinterpreted by the confused and stressed mind of George’s. It gets even worse when Lennie asks him, “George, when are we gonna do it?”.

            Before pulling the trigger, Lennie asks George once again if it’s sure he’s not mad, and George answers “No, Lennie. I ain’t mad. I never been mad, an’ I ain’t now. That’s a thing I want ya to know.”. This makes it much clearer for the reader that his reason of shooting him definitely isn’t that his mad, but to help him. To help Lennie, and to help himself. To help the world.

            Lennie tells George, “Le’s do it now. Le’s get that place now.”, and even though I don’t think Lennie hereby understands what’s going on, I think George interprets “that place” as the afterworld – even if he maybe doesn’t believe in Lennie going to heaven, he at least believes that he will go to a better world, a tranquillity he cannot purchase in life, but only in death.

            And so George pulls the trigger.

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