One of the book’s major themes and several of its dominant symbols revolve around Candy. The old handyman, aging and left with only one hand as the result of an accident, worries that the boss will soon declare him useless and demand that he leave the ranch. Of course, life on the ranch—especially Candy’s dog, once an impressive sheep herder but now toothless, foul-smelling, and brittle with age—supports Candy’s fears. Past accomplishments and current emotional ties matter little, as Carlson makes clear when he insists that Candy let him put the dog out of its misery. In such a world, Candy’s dog serves as a harsh reminder of the fate that awaits anyone who outlives his usefulness.
For a brief time, however, the dream of living out his days with George and Lennie on their dream farm distracts Candy from this harsh reality. He deems the few acres of land they describe worthy of his hard-earned life’s savings, which testifies to his desperate need to believe in a world kinder than the one in which he lives. Like George, Candy clings to the idea of having the freedom to take up or set aside work as he chooses. So strong is his devotion to this idea that, even after he discovers that Lennie has killed Curley’s wife, he pleads for himself and George to go ahead and buy the farm as planned.
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