How does Steinbeck create and sustain suspense while the men are waiting for the dog to be shot?Of Mice and Men

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Gathered in the bunkhouse in Chapter 3 of Steinbeck's novella Of Mice and Men, the men play cards and talk; that is, all but Carlson who looks down at Candy's old dog.  After a while, he tells Candy that his old dog has no reason to continue living since it is difficult for the dog to walk and eat and see anymore, and he offers to put him out of his misery.  Hoping to deter Carlson in his intention, Candy says, "Maybe tomorra. Let's wait till tomorra."  But, the cruel Carlson will not be deterred,

"I don't see no reason for it....Let's get it over with....We can't sleep with him stinkin' around in here."  

At this point Candy looks for a long time at Slim with his "god-like eyes," hoping "to try to find some reversal" of his dog's fate. However, Slim will not interfere.  So, Candy is forced to say despairing, "Awright--take 'im."

After Carlson leads the old dog out gently, Candy stiffens and lies unmoving on his bed.  Slim speaks loudly, hoping to drown out any outside sound, in an effort to draw the men's attention to something else.  But, "[T]he silence came into the room.  And the silence lasted."  Chuckling, George, too, tries to divert attention to what is going on outside:  "I bet Lennie's right out there in the barn with his pup." This suggestion of another dog leads Slim to suggest to Candy that he can have one of his pups.  But Candy does not answer.  Instead, Steinbeck writes,

The silence fell on the room again.  It came out of the night and invaded the room.

Again, George attempts a diversion, "Anybody like to play a little euchre?"   When George does not shuffle the card deck, but ripples it instead, the snapping noise "drew the eyes of all the men in the room," so he stops it.  Clearly everyone is on edge waiting for the shot of Carlson's Krueger.  Again Steinbeck writes, "The silence fell on the room again," and, "Candy lay still, staring at the ceiling." When there is a sound under a bunk, the men are grateful for another distraction; only Candy does not move, staring still at the ceiling.  Finally White breaks out nervously, "What the hell's takin' him so long?  Lay out some cards, why don't you?"  George holds the deck of cards, staring at the backs of them while "[T]he silence was in the room again." Finally, a shot is heard in the distance; all the men look quickly at old Candy, who rolls slowly over to face the wall silently.

Steinbeck's repetitive intrusion of phrases such as "the silence fell on the room" interrupts the action and dialogues of the men.  This use of the pall of silence lends a suspension of time in the sad scene of Candy's loss of his old companion.

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