In chapter 2, what does the swamper mean by the statement, "Curley's pretty handy"?
In chapter two of Steinbeck's novella Of Mice and Men, Candy, the old swamper, describes the main characters who live on the ranch, including the Boss, Crooks, Slim, Curley and Curley's wife. When he describes Curley he uses the term "handy," and Steinbeck refers to Curley as "pugnacious." He is a good fighter, and, more than that, enjoys fighting. He was an excellent boxer and competed in the Golden Gloves competition. Golden Gloves is an amateur boxing association which holds tournaments.
Curley likes to fight and Candy says he often picks on bigger men to prove how tough he is. Candy explains,
“Never did seem right to me. S’pose Curley jumps a big guy an’ licks him. Ever’body says what a game guy Curley is. And s’pose he does the same thing and gets licked. Then ever’body says the big guy oughtta pick somebody his own size, and maybe they gang up on the big guy. Never did seem right to me. Seems like Curley ain’t givin’ nobody a chance.”
This statement foreshadows the fight between Curley and the much bigger Lennie. Because he is a trained boxer and "handy" with his fists, Curley gets the best of Lennie until George unleashes the big man. Curley is reduced to a "flopping fish" as Lennie brutally crushes the smaller man's hand.
After George meets Curley for the first time, Candy tells George that Curley is a pugnacious individual who is always picking fights with guys regardless of their size. George responds by telling Candy that Curley needs to be careful messing with Lennie, because he is liable to get hurt. When Candy refers to Curley as being "pretty handy," he is essentially saying that Curley is a decent fighter. Despite his small size, Curley is a lightweight boxer who made it to the Golden Gloves final one year. Throughout the novel, Curley is portrayed as an aggressive, violent man. He attempts to pick on Lennie and eventually gets into a fight with him. After punching Lennie several times in the face, Lennie grabs Curley's hand and utterly crushes it.
The swamper means that Curly's a good fighter. Curly has a reputation for being good with his fists.