‘Of Mice and Men’ is a novel about people. Are there ‘too many cripples, misfits and unusual characters’ in the novel to consider Steinbeck’s portrayal as true to life? Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’ is a novel about people, their dreams, relationships and disappointments. The characters are diverse and represent a cross section of society during the American Depression of the 1930’s. The novel is set in Steinbeck’s birthplace of Salinas Valley, California, and it is at the ranch where he grew up that we meet the majority of characters.
There are three specific locations in the novel where most of the story unfolds, these are; the banks of the Salinas River, the bunkhouse and the barn. ‘Of Mice and Men’ has a number of central themes evident in the novel such as loneliness; hope and the American Dream, and the strength and importance of friendships. These themes are pivotal to the characters’ development and behaviour with each other in the novel. A large number of the characters in ‘Of Mice and Men’ have something wrong with them; this is because Steinbeck is writing about the vulnerability of being an outsider.
Migrant workers are, by their nature, ‘misfits’ due to the fact they are displaced and are, therefore, unconnected to the people around them. George and Lenny are unusual in that they have each other. Furthermore, I feel ‘Of Mice and Men’ is true to life as Steinbeck is writing about the debris of the Depression and these are the very characters, the ‘cripples’ and ‘misfits’, who would have found it hardest to find work and would have had to leave their homes to find jobs. The character Candy is the cleaner or ‘swamper’ on the ranch.
From the description of him in the novel the reader deduces he is old. Suggesting this Steinbeck says, ‘The door opened and a tall, stooped-shouldered old man came in’ and ‘… he rubbed his bristly white whiskers with his knuckles’. We also learn that Candy is physically handicapped in that he only has one hand; the author writes ‘He pointed with his right arm and out of the sleeve came a round stick wrist, but no hand’. Furthermore, we learn he lost his hand in an accident with a machine on the ranch during the many years he worked in the fields.
Injuries with farm machinery were common, which is why Curley is told to say that his hand was caught in a machine. Candy becomes an integral part of George and Lennie’s dream to live on their own ranch and ‘live off the fatta the lan”. In ‘Of Mice and Men’ Candy is the oldest worker on the ranch and is dogged by the fear that he will lose his job, be ‘canned’, due to his age and the fact that he is regarded as a cripple. He represents the aged sector of society and their feelings of becoming unneeded and useless, fearing the day they may be replaced by someone younger and fitter.
This was even more relevant during the 1930’s, the period in which the book was set, as there was a great depression and therefore unemployment and poverty were at their highest. This meant that should Candy lose his job the chances of him finding a new job would be slim. However, Candy is not a typical representation of migrants, like Carlson and Slim, due to his age and the companionship that he has with his dog. Candy is not just a ‘cripple’, but is presented as a person who has feelings. Throughout the novel Candy experiences many different emotions.
Firstly, he has love for his dog, then he goes through a period of sadness where he is mourning the death of his dog, then he has hope for the future when he hears about the dream and at the end he feels emptiness as he has no future to look forward to and no companionship. What Steinbeck brings out through the character of Candy is the need of the dispossessed for companionship and the support of others. He hears about the dream that George and Lennie have while he is mourning the loss of his beloved pet and offers to join them.
It is a glimmer of hope when he is at his lowest and most vulnerable. Candy sees owning their own ranch as a way out of the situation and looks forward to the security of knowing he cannot be ‘canned’. In the novel Candy’s dog symbolises the fate of the elderly. To the onlooker, the dog was old, useless, unwanted, replaceable and maimed. This is conveyed in the line, ‘That dog of Candy’s is so God damn old he can’t hardly walk. Stinks like hell, too… Why’n’t you get Candy to shoot his old dog… Candy feeds him milk. He can’t chew nothing else’.
The dog is shot later in the novel. Due to the similarities between Candy and his dog, the reader cannot help but feel sympathy towards the potential fate of Candy as he continues to age and feel threatened by younger men. The maimed and elderly of the time were often viewed similarly to Candy’s dog; once society had had the best of them they were cast aside and no longer wanted. The shooting of the dog also prefigures the shooting of Lennie who like the dog has become more trouble than he is worth. Like Lennie with George, Candy keeps the dog because he is ‘used to him’.