In John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men," the author considers many types of men in his theme of alienation vs. the brotherhood of man. Maimed, old, and past his usefulness, Candy, the "old swamper" who is much like his old, decrepit dog, is relegated to being the sweeper of the bunkhouse and the one who hangs around during the day. At this point in his life, Candy leads a "life of quiet desperation" as Thoreau once wrote. For, he knows that he is barely useful and the future looks extemely bleak for him as he faces alienation from the other men and a solitary death.
As he shows George and Lennie around after their arrival, Candy shows that he is kind-hearted, speaking charitably about Crooks, the pariah who must live by himself in the stable because he is black.
Candy is also fearful as he quickly fades from the scene when the boss enters the bunkhouse, knowing he will be in trouble if he is caught standing around talking and worried that he will be fired. His alienation from the others who are out in the field is reinforced in this scene. In fact, his only friend is his old dog. When the men suggest that the old dog, who stinks, needs to be shot and Slim agrees, Candy "looked helplessly at him, for Slim's opinions were law." As the unfeeling Carlson explains how he will shoot the dog, Candy "looked for help from face to face," but finds "no reversal" of his fate. Later he tells George,
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 shoo 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.
As they converse, George learns that Candy has saved money he has received from the loss of his hand in a farm accident. Learning of Candy's money makes George include the swamper in on their dream of having a ranch since George perceives that this dream with which he has merely patronized Lennie, now has possibility, thus reinforcing Steinbeck's theme that when they work/live together men can have better lives. [fraternity]
When George includes Candy in the ranch plans, they then all
sat still, all bemused by the beauty of the thing, each mind was popped into the future when this lovely thing should come about.
After this moment of fraternity, Candy, renewed in life because of his sense of belonging again, feels more kindly towards others, even Crooks, whose lonely room he has never entered before he comes looking for Lennie. He assumes a brotherly role toward Lennie, defending him against the insinuations of Curley's wife as he tells her he will report what she says to George. He also consoles Lennie, telling him "Don't you worry none."
Later, when Lennie accidentally kills Curley's wife who, in Eve-like fashion, has enticed Lennie into talking and sitting with her, Candy gets George and leads him into the stable. As they discover the dead woman and George says they need to catch Lennie, Candy defensively urges George to let him get away because "Curley'll get 'im killed." He then expresses "his greatest fear":
'You an' me can get that little place, can't we, Geoge? You an' me can go there an' live nice, can't we, George? Can't we?'
In despair, George "says softly,"
'--I think I knowed from the very first. I think I knowed we'd never do her. He usta like to hear about it so much I got to thinking maybe we would.'
Clearly, Candy is an important character because he is pivotal to the plot of "Of Mice and Men" as well as important to the theme of fraternity vs. alienation in Steinbeck's novella.
Candy from Of Mice and Men is another archetypal character used by Steinbeck to illustrate the various subgroups who made up the migrant workers during the Great Depression. The old-timer serves several functions.
1. First, Candy is a stereotypical old gossip. Because he has been at the ranch for so long, he informs George, and thus, the reader, of the "politics" and interrelationships of the ranch. Candy's penchant for gossiping also demonstrates his loneliness; he will talk to anyone who will listen and jumps at the chance to go in on a farm with George and Lennie.
2. Secondly, Candy is another one of the novel's outcasts, and like the others, he is isolated for a specific reason. In his case, it is his age and injury that cause him to stay back at the ranch each day when the other men go to the fields. His age and injury also force him to feel left out and useless. In fact, Candy states that he wishes someone would just take him out and shoot him like his dog when he is of no use anymore.
Overall, Candy fits into the little group of outcasts. Like George and Lennie and Crooks, Candy longs for a place in life where he is appreciated and cared about.