Lennie was watching George excitedly. . . “Yeah!” George said, “I heard him, Lennie. I’ll ask him.”
Early in the novella, George promises Lennie that he will get him a puppy if he gets the chance, saying the puppy would be “better than mice.” So, when Lennie and George overhear Slim talking about his dog’s new litter, Lennie immediately perks up and excitedly asks George to talk to Slim about giving him a “brown and white one.” When Lennie says, “You ask him right away, George, so he won’t kill no more of ’em,” Lennie’s possible puppy symbolizes the innocence and fragility of life, the childlike quality of Lennie’s personality, and a foreshadowing of the tragic events to come regarding Lennie and the puppy. Lennie’s words also symbolize his genuine desire to care for a smaller, weaker animal, much like George genuinely cares for Lennie, a man who is physically strong but mentally weak and innocent.
Lennie held out his hands pleadingly. “Give ’um to me, George. I’ll take ’um back. I didn’t mean no harm, George. Honest I didn’t. I jus’ wanted to pet ’um a little.”
After George thanks Slim for giving Lennie a puppy and then confides in him about Lennie’s challenges and the incident in Weed, they catch Lennie trying to slip into the bunkhouse with his new puppy even though he knows the puppy needs to stay with its mother. When Lennie pleads with George, saying, “I didn’t mean no harm . . . I jus’ wanted to pet ’um a little,” Lennie’s puppy symbolizes Lennie’s innocence, his vulnerability, and how he doesn’t intend to hurt the puppy but can’t seem to understand how his actions could be dangerous. Lennie’s plea also echoes his explanation for why he had a dead mouse in his pocket at the beginning of the story, hinting at the unfortunate connection between the mouse and this puppy.
Lennie sat in the hay and looked at a little dead puppy that lay in front of him. Lennie looked at it for a long time, and then he put out his huge hand and stroked it, stroked it clear from one end to the other.
Here, toward the end of the novella, Lennie sorrowfully contemplates how his puppy died and how this event will affect him. As Lennie “put out his huge hand and stroked [the puppy],” saying, “Why do you got to get killed? You ain’t so little as mice,” Lennie’s puppy symbolizes the fragility of life and dreams and Lennie’s inability to recognize his own physical strength. As Lennie mourns his puppy’s death, his reaction clearly demonstrates that he doesn’t mean to hurt “the weak” but that his childlike mind cannot grasp the power and destructive quality of his physical strength. The fact that Lennie seems to only focus on how this event will affect whether George will let him tend the rabbits also shows his inability to fully comprehend his reality and how he should alter his actions to cause less trouble.
Then all of Lennie’s woe came back on him. “Jus’ my pup,” he said sadly. “Jus’ my little pup,” And he swept the hay from on top of it.
“Why, he’s dead,” she cried.
As Lennie unveils his “woe” and the details of his puppy’s death to Curley’s wife, Lennie’s puppy symbolizes a warning or foreshadowing of Lennie’s inability to control his own strength. Despite hearing about what caused the puppy to die, Curley’s wife continues to push Lennie to confide in her, ignoring the glaring warning that the puppy’s death represents. When Lennie says, “Jus’ my little pup . . . I was jus’ playin’ with him . . . An’ then he was dead,” he reveals that even though he adored this puppy, he failed to recognize and control his own strength, and he ultimately killed something he didn’t mean to. However, Curley’s wife cannot resist the attention and companionship that Lennie offers in this moment and ignores the symbolic warning behind Lennie’s dead puppy.
Lennie went back and looked at the dead girl. The puppy lay close to her. Lennie picked it up. “I’ll throw him away,” he said. “It’s bad enough like it is.” He put the pup under his coat, and he crept to the barn wall and peered out between the cracks, toward the horseshoe game.
Toward the end of the novella, Lennie’s destruction peaks as his failure to control his own strength results in the death of his puppy and Curley’s wife. When “Lennie went back and looked at the dead girl” and “[t]he puppy [that] lay close to her,” the two tragedies symbolically parallel each other as both deaths were the consequence of Lennie’s inability to recognize when he is hurting something. Ironically, the puppy, Lennie, and Curley’s wife all were wanting and needing the same thing: to feel safe, loved, and cared for. When Lennie decides to remove the dead puppy, saying, “It’s bad enough like it is,” the puppy symbolizes Lennie’s ability to understand the gravity of the situation, at least to some extent, even if he could not control what happened.
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