The old man came slowly into the room. He had his broom in his hand. And at his heels there walked a dragfooted sheep dog, gray of muzzle, and with pale, blind old eyes. The dog struggled lamely to the side of the room and lay down, grunting softly to himself and licking his grizzled, moth-eaten coat.
When they arrive at the ranch, Lennie and George meet Candy and his elderly dog as they are introduced to the others in the bunkhouse. Here, Candy’s dog symbolizes Candy as an old man and the effects of getting older. Learning of Candy’s dog’s condition helps readers understand how Candy himself might feel. Candy and his dog seem to be extensions of one another, each moving slowly and with obvious handicaps that affect their usefulness and well-being.
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.[”]
As Lennie and George are introduced to the bunkhouse, Carlson, one of the ranch workers, starts a conversation with Slim about Candy’s old dog. As Carlson describes Candy’s dog as “so God damn old he can’t hardly walk” and that he “[s]tinks like hell, too,” Carlson is trying to convince Slim to agree with him and persuade “Candy to shoot his old dog.” Through this description, Candy’s dog symbolizes how old age and decline are viewed by the ranch workers of this time period. Carlson completely ignores any sentimental or affectionate feelings Candy might have for his dog and only focuses on the dog’s uselessness, suffering, and inconvenience. Carlson’s view of Candy’s dog also hints at the humanity of putting the dog out of its misery, something they couldn’t do for an old man like Candy.
The old man squirmed uncomfortably. “Well—hell! I had him so long. Had him since he was a pup. I herded sheep with him.” He said proudly, “You wouldn’t think it to look at him now, but he was the best damn sheep dog I ever seen.”
Here, Candy desperately tries to hold on to his old dog and escape Carlson’s pressure to “shoot him” because “he ain’t no good to himself.” Candy explains his history with his dog, how he “had him since he was a pup,” and how “he was the best damn sheep dog.” Through Candy’s pleas, his dog symbolizes a connection to the past and the common desire to hold onto the best of the past. While Candy’s dog may be old and useless now, Candy doesn’t want to let go of their connection and the good times they shared when he “herded sheep with him.”
The skinner had been studying the old dog with his calm eyes. “Yeah,” he said. “You can have a pup if you want to.” He seemed to shake himself free for speech. “Carl’s right, Candy. That dog ain’t no good to himself. I wisht somebody’d shoot me if I got old an’ a cripple.”
After Carlson’s many pushes to have Candy shoot his old dog, Slim, the skinner, whose “opinions were law,” speaks up and agrees with Carlson, encouraging Candy to accept the old dog’s fate. When Slim offers Candy a puppy and says of the old dog, “That dog ain’t no good to himself. I wisht somebody’d shoot me if I got old an’ a cripple,” Slim presents an important symbolism behind Candy’s old dog. A ranch worker’s life during this time period was determined by his usefulness, and survival was directly linked to his ability to physically work. However, much like Candy’s old dog, once ranch workers could not work, they would lose their ability to provide for themselves or have a purpose in life, being quickly replaced by younger, more physically able workers. Candy’s dog symbolizes these realities and fears in the farm worker’s life.
“You seen what they done to my dog tonight? They says he wasn’t no good to himself nor nobody else. When they can me here I wisht somebody’d shoot me. But they won’t do nothing like that. I won’t have no place to go, an’ I can’t get no more jobs. I’ll have thirty dollars more comin’, time you guys is ready to quit.”
As Candy hears about George and Lennie’s dream to own a little farm, he jumps at the chance to join in, describing where his enthusiasm comes from and why he has such a deep desire to feel useful and secure as he ages. In this quote, Candy talks about “what they done to [his] dog” because “he wasn’t no good to himself nor nobody else.” He repeats Slim’s earlier sentiment about wishing “somebody’d shoot” him when he was no longer able to work and earn money at the ranch. Here, Candy’s dog once again symbolizes the fear and realities of an aging farm worker. At the same time, the concept of shooting something to save it from a miserable life foreshadows the tragic events that will unfold between George and Lennie at the end of the story.
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