Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In John Steinbeck's novel Of Mice and Men, Candy is the oldest member of the ranch crew. He is called an "old swamper" because his job is to clean the bunkhouses. ("Swamper" was a term for people who did menial labor.) Candy lost a hand in an accident on the ranch; because of this and because of his age, he's not able to do the other jobs on the ranch. Candy is kind-hearted: he keeps his old dog, who has long outlived his usefulness, out of his respect for the dog's past as a great herding dog. Carlson gets angry at Candy for keeping the dog around and not putting it out of its misery. Here is how Candy responds:

"He stopped and sniffed the air, and still sniffing, looked down at the old dog. 'God awmighty, that dog stinks. Get him outa here, Candy! I don’t know nothing that stinks as bad as an old dog. You gotta get him out.' Candy rolled to the edge of his bunk. He reached over and patted the ancient dog, and he apologized, 'I been around him so much I never notice how he stinks.'

'Well, I can’t stand him in here,' said Carlson. 'That stink hangs around even after he’s gone.' He walked over with his heavy-legged stride and looked down at the dog.

'Got no teeth,' he said. '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?'

The old man squirmed uncomfortably. 'Well—hell! I had him so long. Had him since he was a pup. I herded sheep with him.' He said proudly, 'You wouldn’t think it to look at him now, but he was the best damn sheep dog I ever seen.'"

Candy also befriends George and Lennie; most of the other ranch hands do not. Candy is also a dreamer, and he desires to be a part of the dream ranch that George and Lennie talk about.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

John Steinbeck understood and liked people, but he was not sentimental about them. In Of Mice and Men, he shows that most of the characters, like human beings in general, have good and bad, kind and cruel, generous and selfish sides to their natures. Candy is no exception, but he has to keep his darker side hidden. He is old and weak, virtually a charity case. He can’t afford to antagonize anyone. He is holding on to his precarious position in constant fear of being cast out with no hope of finding another job.

Here is Steinbeck’s description of Curley’s dead wife:

Curley’s wife lay with a half-covering of yellow hay. And the meanness and the plannings and the discontent and the ache for attention were all gone from her face. She was very pretty and simple, and her face was sweet and young. Now her rouged cheeks and her reddened lips made her seem alive and sleeping very lightly. The curls, tiny little sausages, were spread on the hay behind her head, and her lips were parted.

And here is what Candy says to the dead girl when he is alone with her:

“You God damn tramp,” he said viciously. “You done it, di’n’t you? I s’pose you’re glad. Ever’body knowed you’d mess things up. You wasn’t no good. You ain’t no good now, you lousy tart.”

Steinbeck has already shown that nearly every character has a cruel side. George protects and cares for Lennie, but he also abuses him verbally on many occasions. Lennie loves little animals but accidentally kills them. The boss who interviewed George and Lennie is a hard-working man but also a bully. Curley has a vicious streak he doesn't even try to hide; instead, it is his vulnerable side that he tries to keep hidden. Poor lonely Crooks is an object of pity, but he takes sadistic pleasure in torturing Lennie by suggesting that George may have abandoned him. Curley’s wife is seductive, but she shows a shocking mean streak when she suggests to Crooks that she could easily have him lynched just by claiming he molested her.

Candy does not show the dark side to his nature until he curses the dead girl in the barn. Steinbeck must have invented this dialogue for the specific purpose of showing that Candy was like all the others (with the possible exception of Slim) in having a cruel streak. Candy is only thinking about himself and his own disappointment. He cares nothing about the girl. He can’t see that her face is “sweet and young” or that “the meanness and the plannings and the discontent and the ache for attention were all gone from her face.” This ugly side had to be shown somewhere in order to make Candy seem like a real person and not just a quaint, stereotypical character.

Steinbeck was one of the most popular writers of his day, and he remains popular with discriminating readers because of his honest, realistic depiction of men and women of a certain social class. His fiction evokes many strong feelings, but he is never maudlin or romantic. He was always a realist, and his characters are always realistic in their being human and thus being mixtures of good and bad, kind and cruel, generous and selfish, strong and weak, honest and dishonest—like most of us.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial