Summary and Analysis
In Chapter 2, Lennie sensed that the ranch is not a safe place for them. Chapter 3 brings that prophesy to light with a number of occurrences that are dark and violent. The death of Candy's dog and the crushing of Curley's hand are situations that have repercussions later. These dark images are balanced with Lennie's happiness in securing a puppy and the promise of being able to finally get their dream farm. Rather than alleviating the sense of foreboding, this juxtaposition of dark scenes with scenes full of promise serves to increase the reader's apprehension. The chapter ends with Curley's crushed hand and Lennie's (and George's) claims that Lennie didn't mean to hurt anyone, foreshadowing later events.
George and Lennie's relationship is further developed by Steinbeck in George's discussion with Slim. George makes his need for Lennie clear when he tells Slim about the incident at the river. George says, "… he'll do any damn thing I [tell him to do.]" Here the reader sees that George enjoys the opportunity to not only give Lennie advice, but also to be in charge. Lennie gives George stature. But now George uses that power carefully; he respects the fact that Lennie is not mean and would never intentionally hurt anyone. What George does not seem to realize is how dangerous Lennie's strength can be, a danger that Steinbeck makes clear when Lennie crushes Curley's hand.
Whit, a minor character, becomes important in this scene because he shows the life of a ranch hand when he isn't busy at his job. Whit reads pulp magazines, plays cards, and goes to Clara's or Susy's house on the weekend. He simply lives for today with no thought for his future and no concern for saving money, illustrating Steinbeck's point that sometimes our best intentions can be hurt by the human need for instant gratification or relief from the boredom.
Foreshadowing is heavy in this chapter with the repetition of the mens' attitudes toward Curley's wife. Whit asks George if he has seen her and ventures a comment on her appearance. Curley automatically assumes that she is in the barn with Slim, and the other guys follow him to the barn, assuming there will be a fight. George calls Curley's wife jailbait and refuses to go to the barn. He also mentions the story of Andy Cushman, a man who is now in prison because of a "tart." All of these events are Steinbeck's way of saying that something terrible is going to happen, and that Curley's wife will be involved.
In this chapter, the gloom is relieved by the hopeful planning of the three men — George, Lennie, and Candy — toward their dream. For the first time in his life, George believes the dream can come true with Candy's down payment. He knows of a farm they can buy, and the readers' hopes are lifted as well, as the men plan, in detail, how they will buy the ranch and what they will do once it is theirs. But while Steinbeck includes this story of hope, the preponderance of the chapter is dark. Both the shooting of Candy's dog and the smashing of Curley's hand foreshadow that the men will not be able to realize their dream.
The shooting of Candy's dog shows the callousness of Carlson and the reality of old age and infirmity. Carlson offers to shoot the old dog, complaining many times of the smell. He brutally keeps after Candy, and Candy's reaction can be seen in the adverbs Steinbeck uses to describe how Candy looks: "uneasily," "hopefully," "hopelessly." Candy reaches out to Slim for help, but even Slim says it would be better to put the dog down. "I wisht somebody'd shoot me if I get old an' a cripple" are the words Slim uses that Candy later echoes when he considers his own future.
Carlson is the stereotype of a macho male. He relentlessly pursues the dog's death, more for his own comfort (he doesn't like the dog's smell) than to put the dog out of its misery. He quickly and emphatically says he has a Luger that can do the job, and he has to be reminded by Slim to take a shovel so Candy will be spared the glimpse of the corpse. Carlson even cleans his gun in front of Candy after the deed is done. While it may be true that killing the dog put it out of its misery, little concern is shown for Candy's feelings after a lifetime of caring for the dog. Now Candy is like the rest of them — alone. The rough and brutal world of the ranch hand is revealed by Carlson's actions and then brought up once again with the brutality of Curley toward Lennie.
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