Discussion Topic

The significance of Carlson's actions and his Lugar in Of Mice and Men


Carlson's actions and his Luger in Of Mice and Men symbolize the harsh reality of the world the characters inhabit. Carlson's insistence on shooting Candy's dog with his Luger highlights the lack of empathy and the survival-of-the-fittest mentality. Later, George uses Carlson's Luger to mercifully kill Lennie, underscoring the novel's themes of mercy, inevitability, and the burden of difficult decisions.

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Why does Carlson kill the dog in Of Mice and Men?

This question does not offer much in terms of direction. My first piece of advice for your essay is to make sure it isn't a summary of what happens in the book. Your essay may certainly do this, but I am assuming that your essay has to make some kind of argument about this portion of the book. Personally, I would craft an essay that is essentially a character breakdown of Carlson, and his killing the dog should be used as evidence that supports the argument about who Carlson is. He's a bitter and mean farm worker that isn't capable of real empathy. He selfishly looks out for himself so much that he can't even fathom why Candy would hesitate about shooting his dog.

"He ain't no good to you, Candy. An' he ain't no good to himself."

Of course you could argue the opposite about the dog killing incident. You could argue that his heartlessness isn't really heartlessness. You could argue that Carlson is the only person around that actually has the courage and the guts to do what is necessary and what is right. The dog isn't the great dog it once was. Age has debilitated the dog, and putting it down could be seen as a mercy. That puts an interesting twist on Carlson because not many readers see him as a kind and merciful character. Your essay could be about how this incident shows that Carlson isn't only an angry and bitter man.

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Why does Carlson kill the dog in Of Mice and Men?

Unless you have some specific thesis already in mind, I would like to suggest that you write about why John Steinbeck included that incident in his book. In my opinion, the author's intention was to show that a handgun existed, so that later on when George makes the decision to kill Lennie he will know where to find the Luger and will also know how to use it as well as where to point it at the back of Lennie's head. If you decide to go with that kind of thesis, you could quote Carlson's explanation of how he could kill the old dog painlessly with one shot. You could also quote some of Steinbeck's description of how Carlson takes the automatic pistol apart after firing it, which enables George to see exactly how to eject the clip, how to inject one shell into firing position, etc. The quote should also show that Carlson keeps the Luger under his bunk. I think it would be easier to write an essay along these lines than to try to write about Carlson's feelings, Candy's feelings, and even the feelings of the other men in the bunkhouse. You could get through that part of the incident easily by simply writing that Carlson and all the other men pressured Candy into letting Carlson kill the dog.

A German Luger is a very distinctive-looking weapon. No doubt Carlson owns a Luger because he served in World War I and brought it back from Europe as a souvenir. When George pulls it out of his pocket at the riverside rendezvous, the reader will understand immediately that George stole it from under Carlson's bunk with the intention of killing Lennie. The highpoint of the story comes when George has to kill his best friend, and the incident with the dog is mainly an excuse for revealing the existence of the Luger, where it is kept, how to fire it, and where to point it.

Whatever angle you choose to use in your essay, you need a specific thesis which you intend to prove. But you don't necessarily have to write the thesis statement first. You should be prepared to write several drafts. 

Some people think it is important that Candy regrets that he didn't kill his dog himself. I think this would be a hard subject to handle. In the first place, Candy only has one hand. He couldn't hold the dog and fire the gun at the same time. He would be sure to botch the job. Besides that, there is an indication that he is right-handed and it is the right hand that is missing. So he would be trying to fire an exotic foreign handgun with his left hand! 

Some people might try to work out an analogy between Carlson killing Candy's dog and George killing Lennie. I think this would be very complicated. Lennie is a friend, not a dog. If Candy killed his own dog there might be a better analogy, but I don't believe the author attached much importance to that parallelism

My thesis would simply be: John Steinbeck created the incident in which Carlson shoots Candy's dog because the author wanted George to learn where the German Luger was kept, how it worked, and where to point it. 

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In Of Mice and Men, why is Carlson's Lugar used to kill Candy's dog and Lennie?

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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In Of Mice and Men, why is Carlson's Lugar used to kill Candy's dog and Lennie?

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.

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In Of Mice and Men, why is Carlson's Lugar used to kill Candy's dog and Lennie?

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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