In Of Mice and Men, why is the weapon used to kill Candy's dog and Lennie a gun, specifically Carlson's Lugar?
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With regard to the question about Carlson's Luger in John Steinbeck's short novel Of Mice and Men, I would like to suggest an additional explanation.
Steinbeck wanted to write a story about a man who performs a mercy killing to save his best friend from being lynched. That must have been in his mind when he was writing the first chapter, in which George tells Lennie to meet him at this campsite if he should get into trouble. Now the only feasible way for George to kill Lennie would be with a gun. It would be too gruesome if he used a knife or a club. But George does not own a gun. Steinbeck had to establish that a gun existed and that George would have access to it if he needed it. This partially explains the business of Carlson shooting Candy's dog.
Candy could hardly have done it himself because he only has one hand and probably has no experience with a automatic pistol. Here is a significant quote:
He pointed with his right arm, and out of the sleeve came a round stick-like wrist, but no hand.
If Candy had been right-handed--as most men are--it would have been very difficult for him to try to shoot his dog with a strange foreign-made pistol with his left hand. Pointing with his right arm seems intended to prove that Candy is, or was, right-handed.
The fact that the gun is a German Luger suggests that Carlson served in World War I and brought it back as a souvenir. Lugers, which only German officers carried, were the most popular souvenirs the soldiers brought back from Europe.
After Carlson shoots Candy's dog, Steinbeck provides a long description of how Carlson cares for his prized weapon:
Carlson found a little cleaning rod in the bag and a can of oil. He laid them on his bed and then brought out the pistol, took out the magazine and snapped the loaded shell from the chamber. Then he fell to cleaning the barrel with the little rod. When the ejector snapped, Candy turned over and looked for a moment at the gun before he turned back to the wall again.
Then, a bit later:
Carlson finished the cleaning of the gun and put it in the bag and pushed the bag under his bunk.
George and Lennie have plenty of time to observe how the Luger works and where Carlson keeps it. A large measure of Steinbeck's motive for including the episode about Carlson shooting Candy's dog is to establish that there is a gun, that it is easily accessible to either Lennie or George, that George at least has seen how to handle this sophisticated foreign weapon, and that he has been told exactly where to point it.
If Steinbeck had written the last chapter with George simply producing a handgun out of his side pocket, with no explanation of where he had gotten it, that would have spoiled the verisimilitude. The reader would have found it hard to believe that George, all of a sudden, had a gun. As written, George not only has the gun but knows how to fire it and where to point it. Here is Steinbeck's description:
"We gonna get a little place," George began. He reached in his side pocket and brought out Carlson's Luger; he snapped off the safety, and the hand and gun lay on the ground behind Lennie's back. He looked at the back of Lennie's head, at the place where the spine and skull were joined.
A German Luger is a very distinctive-looking handgun. It had to be established that Carlson's gun was a Luger so that the reader (and the future viewer when the book was adapted into a stage play) would understand immediately how George had come to possess a pistol.
The reason why the same gun is used in the killing of both Candy's dog and of Lennie is twofold: firstly it helps highlight the way that the death of Candy's dog foreshadows the death of Lennie, and secondly the use of the gun is the most humane and kind method of execution.
It is important to realise that Candy's dog is depicted as a helpless animal who needs to be put down. Although Candy is immensely attached to his dog, the other men in the bunkhouse realise that this dog is not well and, for his own good, needs to be shot. This situation therefore is used to directly foreshadow the later situation that George faces with Lennie. The one crucial difference is that George obviously learns a lesson from Candy when he says that he should have shot his dog himself, as George is the one to take Lennie's life.
Secondly, Note what Carlson says to Candy when he is trying to persuade him to let him shoot his dog:
"The way I'd shoot him, he wouldn't feel nothing. I'd put the gun right there." He pointed with his toe. "Right back of the head. He wouldn't even quiver."
The way that Carlson chooses to use these words emphasises the painless death that the use of his gun would yield. It is no surprise therefore that George kills Lennie in exactly the same way. In both cases, the act of killing can actually be seen as being incredibly merciful, as in both cases Carlson and George are saving their victims from a far worser death, and making sure that the dog and Lennie respectively feel no pain.
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With regard to the importance of the German Luger in John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, there is another reason why it figures so prominently. In plotting his story, Steinbeck undoubtedly planned on having George kill Lennie at the end. It might be said thatOf Mice and Men is a story about how a man kills his best friend as an act of mercy. But killing Lennie would not be an easy matter. He is a big and powerful man, as demonstrated so convincingly when he crushes Curley's hand. Even if George were to shoot him point-blank in the chest, he might not kill him with the first shot; and Lennie might become so enraged that he would end up killing George with his bare hands. If George tried to use any weapon other than a gun, he might end up being the victim himself. Steinbeck wanted George to be able to kill Lennie with one shot and not risk merely wounding him.
The whole business with Carlson killing Candy's old dog seems to have been invented for the express purpose of providing George with the weapon and the know-how to kill his partner when the time came to do so. Carlson not only possesses a powerful German handgun, but he explains how to use it to kill quickly, painlessly, and surely with a single shot:
"The way I'd shoot him, he wouldn't feel nothing. I'd put the gun right here." He pointed with his toe. "Right back of the head. He wouldn't even quiver."
When George finds Lennie at their rendevous site by the river and produces Carlson's Luger, he knows exactly how to use it.
He looked at the back of Lennie's head, at the place where the spine and skull were joined. . . . And George raised the gun and steadied it, and he brought the muzzle of it close to the back of Lennie's head. The hand shook violently, but hs face set and his hand steadied. He pulled the trigger. The crash of the shot rolled up the hills and rolled down again. Lennie jarred, and then settled slowly forward to the sand, and he lay without quivering.
The crash of the shot suggest the power of the German gun. The description of the sound of the shot also proves that the mercy killing was performed with a single shot. Notice how Carlson says that Candy's dog "wouldn't even quiver" and how Lennie "lay without quivering." Steinbeck obviously gave considerable thought to the logistics of this mercy killing. He wanted it to be painless for Lennie and also easy and safe for George. The murder had to be done with a gun, and that gun obviously had to be a pistol, not a rifle. This explains why one of the characters at the ranch owns the perfect weapon for such an execution.
Carlson is indirectly characterized as a middle-aged man who must have served in the U.S. Army in Europe during World War I and brought back the German Luger as a souvenir. He treasures that souvenir because it reminds him of his youth and valor and the one big adventure of his life.
Candy's dog was invented for the purpose of demonstrating the existence of the Luger and how to work its foreign mechanism, as well as to allow Carlson to explain where to point it in order to perform a painless execution with a single shot.
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