What is the significance of Candy and his dog in "Of Mice and Men"?

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The relationship between Candy and his dog in John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men serves many functions. First, the relationship parallels the relationship between George and Lennie and foreshadows Lennie's demise. Secondly, the relationship between Candy and the dog illustrates one of the novella's themes—in Depression-era America, only the strong survived. It also illustrates what is often a cultural norm in this country—that people who outlive their usefulness are not valued by society. This is in contrast to other cultures in which elders are honored and revered.

Candy is the "old swamper" on the ranch, which means he does odd jobs like sweeping the bunkhouse. He lost his hand in an accident, so he cannot do many of the jobs around the ranch. He is also quite old, and readers can infer that as a result, he is also weak. This is in contrast to the many younger and stronger ranch hands he lives with.

Candy's dog is also very old and is in very bad condition. Candy has had the dog since he was a puppy and is very attached to him. The dog is all Candy has in the world. He does not have friends on the ranch. The transient nature of the ranch hands would make it difficult to have friendships. He has seen many people come and go, but his loyal dog remains constant in his life. Carlson says the following about Candy's dog:

That dog of Candy's is so God damn old he can't hardly walk. Stinks like hell, too. Ever' time he comes into the bunk house I can smell him for two, three days. Why'n't you get Candy to shoot his old dog and give him one of the pups to raise up? I can smell that dog a mile away. Got no teeth, damn near blind, can't eat. Candy feeds him milk. He can't chew nothing else.

A dog in the condition described above has no usefulness on a working ranch. Candy's dog was very useful as a herding dog. But like Candy, he has outlived his usefulness. The dog also reflects Candy's fear that he will be put out by society because he can barely earn his keep.

"Carl's right, Candy. That dog ain't no good to himself. I wisht somebody'd shoot me if I get old an' a cripple." Candy looked helplessly at him, for Slim's opinions were law. "Maybe it'd hurt him," he suggested. "I don't mind takin' care of him." Carlson said, "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." Candy looked for help from face to face.

The quote above illustrates Candy's attachment to the dog and the responsibility he feels to be loyal to him and care for him, even in his old age. The fact that he feeds the dog milk also demonstrates this. Candy has not given up on the dog, and he remains loyal. He refuses to see the need for the dog to be put down humanely. He is searching everyone's face for someone who will agree that the dog can live. He finds no one and eventually succumbs to the pressure to put the dog down. This is similar to George's loyalty to Lennie. He has made a promise to take care of Lennie and wants to honor that promise. But he has bounced around to many different places, leaving when Lennie does something that others do not understand. Finally, Lennie does something that George cannot fix or flee from. He has to make the decision to end Lennie's life for Lennie's own good.

The relationship between Candy and his dog also highlights the Depression-era theme that only the strong survive. In times of great crisis, many humanitarian beliefs and actions are laid aside, and survival of the fittest becomes the driving force.

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Candy's relationship with his dog is significant to the novella because it mirrors and foreshadows George and Lennie's relationship. Both Candy and his dog are old and have outlived their use on the ranch. Carlson urges Candy to put his dog down, but Candy continually puts it off until Carlson eventually kills the dog. When Candy's dog dies, he is emotionally wounded. Similar to Candy's loyal but useless dog who is eventually shot, Lennie blindly follows George and has been his longtime friend. Unfortunately, Lennie accidentally kills Curley's wife, and George is forced to shoot his best friend to spare him from the brutal lynch mob. Candy and his dog's relationship also illuminates two significant themes throughout the novella. Steinbeck examines how only the strong and vibrant survive in harsh environments, and portrays how personal relationships are important to maintain.  

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