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Who is the old swamper in Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck?

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hmrg22 | eNotes Newbie

Posted October 4, 2013 at 1:00 PM via web

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Who is the old swamper in Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted October 4, 2013 at 2:08 PM (Answer #1)

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The "old swamper" in John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men is named Candy. He is most recognizable for two things in this novel: he is missing one hand and he has a really old, really smelly dog. 

Candy is an old man whose job it is to keep everything mopped, rather like a janitor. We learn that he lost his hand in an accident here on the ranch four years ago, which is the only reason he is still here. He was given two hundred and fifty dollars as compensation, and when he hears George and Lennie talking about their dream of owning a farm, he is quick to offer the three hundred dollars he has in the bank so he can be part of it. He knows he would not be much good to them, but he says he can cook, hoe the garden, and take care of the chickens. 

Candy is old and slow-moving, but his dog is even older (for a dog) and slower. When Candy comes into the barn, 

at his heels there walked a dragfooted sheepdog, gray of muzzle, and with pale, blind old eyes. The dog struggled lamely to the side of the room and lay down, grunting softly to himself and licking his grizzled, moth-eaten coat.

While everyone seems to like Candy just fine, they do not like his dog. He is old and he smells, and one of the other men, Carlson, particularly complains about him all the time. 

"He's all stiff with rheumatism. He ain't no good to you, Candy. An' he ain't no good to himself. Why'n't you shoot him, Candy?"

While Carlson is ready to shoot the dog immediately, Candy clearly loves his dog. He has had the dog for a long time, and he used to be the "best damn sheep dog" Candy has ever known. Eventually Carlson convinces Candy to let him shoot the dog in the back of the head, a painless death, and Slim offers to replace the dog with one of the puppies he has. Candy sits in a kind of daze as Carlson takes the dog outside and shoots him.

Everyone saw the dog as old and useless, much as they see Candy--and perhaps even as Candy sees himself--on this ranch. While no one would ever just shoot Candy to put them all out their misery, Candy knows his fate here and is desperate for something more. 

"They'll can me purty soon. Jus' as soon as I can't swamp out no bunk houses they'll put me on the county. Maybe if I give you guys my money, you'll let me hoe in the garden even after I ain't no good at it. An' I'll wash dishes an' little chicken stuff like that. But I'll be on our own place, an' I'll be let to work on our own place. " 

That is why, when Candy hears about the farm, he wants to work and be part of it. Candy's offer of real money, half of what it would take to buy a farm, is the first time the dream has seemed real to George and Lennie. 

Candy's life is tedious and miserable, and he does not feel as if he has any value here. In fact, he is sure that when he is no longer able to perform his duties here, he will have to leave, and he has no place to go.

He said miserably, "You seen what they done to my dog tonight? They says he wasn't no good to himself nor nobody else. When they can me here I wisht somebody'd shoot me. But they won't do nothing like that. I won't have no place to go, an' I can't get no more jobs."

Candy is a sad old man who lives in a mix of misery and despair, fearful that he is going to be kicked off the ranch and knowing he will have no place to go and no way to make a living. He is a kind of misfit who would be naturally drawn to a dream like the one Lennie and George share. 

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