In the novel, Of Mice And Men, by John Steinbeck, who was Whitey, and why is George concerned about 'ants in Curley's pants'? Also, as it is described in the novel, is a bunkhouse a very good...

In the novel, Of Mice And Men, by John Steinbeck, who was Whitey, and why is George concerned about 'ants in Curley's pants'? Also, as it is described in the novel, is a bunkhouse a very good home? Why or why not?

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andrewnightingale eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Whitey used to be an extremely neat and meticulous blacksmith who occupied the bunk that George is about to take over. George is very sceptical about the yellow can he finds in the box shelf above his bed and questions Candy about it. Candy replies:

"Tell you what-" he said finally, "last guy that had this bed was a blacksmith - hell of a nice fella and as clean a guy as you want to meet. Used to wash his hands even after he ate."

George is not happy and wants to know why Whitey had to protect himself against lice since he had insecticide (the yellow can) in his box. Candy explains:

"This here blacksmith- name of Whitey- was the kind of guy that would put that stuff around even if there wasn't no bugs- just to make sure, see? Tell you what he used to do- At meals he'd peel his boil' potatoes, an' he'd take out ever' little spot, no matter what kind, before he'd eat it. And if there was a red splotch on an egg, he'd scrape it off. Finally quit about the food. That's the kinda guy he was- clean. Used ta dress up Sundays even when he wasn't going no place, put on a necktie even, and then set in the bunkhouse."

It is obvious that Whitey had been very particular about his food and the neatness of his living environment. When George enquires further, Candy tells him that he left the ranch because he was not happy about the food. He did not give any other reason for wanting to leave and just asked for his wages one night and then left. Candy believes that Whitey just wanted to move, a typical desire of so many of the migrant workers at that time.

The reference to 'ants in Curley's pants', stems from an incident when the rancher's son, Curley, came to the bunkhouse searching for his father. Curley saw George and Lennie and picked on Lennie, much to George's consternation. Once Curley had left, Candy explained that that was a habit of his. He always picked on big men, challenging them since he was a lightweight boxer.

Candy furthermore mentioned that Curley had just recently gotten married to a pretty wife who had 'the eye', which means that she was a flirt. George then made the remark about Curley having 'ants in his pants.' he means that Curley was jittery about his wife seeking attention from the ranch hands and was constantly on his guard. 

The following description of the bunkhouse is quite revealing: 

The bunkhouse was a long, rectangular building. Inside, the walls were whitewashed and the floor unpainted. In three walls there were small, square windows, and in the fourth, a solid door with a wooden latch. Against the walls were eight bunks, five of them made up with blankets and the other three showing their burlap ticking. Over each bunk there was nailed an apple box with the opening forward so that it made two shelves for the personal belongings of the occupant of the bunk. And these shelves were loaded with little articles, soap and talcum powder, razors and those Western magazines ranch men love to read and scoff at and secretly believe. And there were medicines on the shelves, and little vials, combs; and from nails on the box sides, a few neckties. Near one wall there was a black cast-iron stove, its stovepipe going straight up through the ceiling. In the middle of the room stood a big square table littered with playing cards, and around it were grouped boxes for the players to sit on.

At about ten o'clock in the morning the sun threw a bright dust-laden bar through one of the side windows, and in and out of the beam flies shot like rushing stars.

The bunkhouse provided the ranch hands shelter and a place to come to. As such it anchored them temporarily and served their basic need for shelter. In addition, it was a place where the men could share a light moment or two with each other after a hard day's labour. They could chat and play cards before resting their weary bodies. In this sense then, the bunkhouse could be defined as a 'good home' since it met the men's most basic requirements.

On the other hand, there were also some risks associated with the men living in such close quarters. Any illness or disease would spread quickly and the men could easily be infected. There is also a hint, with the reference to flies in the extract, that the bunkhouse was not all that neat and tidy. However, one cannot expect that such hard men as the ranch hands would spend time tidying up, unless of course, you were Whitey. The place must have been reasonably slovenly. This then, would have made it less than an ideal home.

 

 

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Of Mice and Men

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