How Steinbeck creates sympathy for Candy in Of Mice and Men
Of Mice and Men is a novel written by John Steinbeck, set in America in the Great Depression of the 1930s. The main characters in the book are the clever, quick George, and his slow, child-like companion Lennie. They are itinerant workers who find work on a ranch in California’s Salinas Valley. There are many characters on the ranch, including Curley, Slim, and Crooks. However, the first ranch worker George and Lennie meet is the general cleaner/handyman, Candy. Steinbeck gives the reader a first impression of Candy as a ‘tall, stoop-shouldered old man’ with only one hand. The author constantly refers to him as ‘the old man’, ‘the old swamper’, and ‘old Candy’. Through using this epithet, Steinbeck keeps Candy’s age at the forefront of the reader’s mind, and implies that Candy’s old age is the first thing that the characters in the novel judge him on when they see him. As the only ‘old man’ on the ranch, he represents the position of the elderly in 1930s America.
This shows how rare it was for a character of Candy’s age to be working on a ranch in the American 1930s Depression. Steinbeck also creates a sense of isolation for Candy as the only one of his age on the ranch, which creates sympathy for him. Furthermore, the fact that Candy is ‘stoop-shouldered’ makes him seem vulnerable, and because he has a ‘round stick-like wrist’ instead of a hand, he is not of much use on the ranch, and he is going to get fired soon. However, he cannot go anywhere else, because he is too old and handicapped, which creates further sympathy for Candy.
However, Candy is very racist, and introduces the idea of Crooks as a ‘nigger’, which is a very derogatory term for black people. Candy’s vindictive comments about Crooks clearly show what the prejudices were against black people in 1930s America. When Candy is gossiping to George, he describes watching the stable buck (Crooks) being beaten as ‘fun’. Even though Candy is nearer the lower end of the social hierarchy in the ranch, he obviously thinks of himself as superior to Crooks, which is obvious when Candy is ‘embarrassed’ to enter Crooks’ room. This limits the reader’s sympathy for Candy. On the other hand, when Curley’s wife threatens Crooks, Candy tries to stand up for him and defies Curley wife: ‘we’d tell about you framing Crooks’. Thus sympathy is again created for Candy, as the reader realises that even though he feels that the black stable buck is inferior to him, Candy still tries to support him. Steinbeck also creates sympathy for Candy through his use of direct speech. For instance, Candy says ‘s’pose Curley jumps a big guy an’ licks him’. Candy’s accent and dialect suggest a lack of education.
This creates sympathy for him, as education is obligatory in England, so the reader sympathises with the character who never got the chance to attend school. Be that as it may, the author creates antipathy for Candy when the character starts gossiping. This gossip introduces and gives the reader a first impression of some of the other characters on the ranch. Candy tells George about Curley’s ‘tart’ wife, and says that Curley ‘never did seem right’ to him. He also makes George promise to ‘tell Curley nothing I said’, implying that he knows that what he is saying is offensive. This further limits the reader’s sympathy for Candy, however it is clear that he gossips to George to try and make friends with him.
This gives a sense of Candy’s loneliness and desperation to have more friends, which again creates sympathy for him. Furthermore, Candy has a sheep dog, with ‘pale, blind old eyes’. Parallels can be drawn between this dog and Candy himself, for they are both old and handicapped. Therefore, when the dog is shot, this foreshadows what will happen to Candy when he gets ‘canned’. The dog is Candy’s constant companion, and has been ‘ever since he was a pup’. Consequently, when the dog dies, Candy is left alone, which reiterates the book’s strong theme of loneliness; Candy now has no one to share his life with. This creates sympathy for Candy, because just like Crooks says, ‘a guy needs somebody’. Candy and his dog also draw similarities to George and Lennie, who are companions. When the dog is shot, and Candy is alone, it foreshadows what will happen to Lennie and how George will be alone. But the difference is that Candy lets Carlson shoot the dog, while George will not let anyone but himself shoot Lennie. However, Candy later admits that he ‘ought to of shot that dog myself’, which again creates sympathy for him, because the reader knows that he regrets letting Carlson shoot the dog for him.
When Candy hears about George and Lennie’s dream, he is ‘entranced’, and when he is accepted to achieve the dream with them, he shares the dream. He wants the dream just as much as George and Lennie do, and his ‘greatest fear’ is the loss of the dream. However, when Lennie dies, the dream dies with him, and Candy is left with no hope. This creates sympathy for Candy, as he is in a worse position now than he was at the start of the novel, because now he has an understanding of what could have been. Despite this, when Curley’s wife dies, Candy is clearly more upset by the loss of the dream than by her death, which creates a sense of antipathy for Candy.
Steinbeck makes use of Candy’s name to emphasise Candy’s nature and his lowly position on the ranch. ‘Candy’ is a synonym for ‘sweets’, which are commonly associated with children. Many people describe children as ‘sweet’ and ‘innocent’ and ‘harmless’, which is therefore the impression of Candy that the reader derives from his name. However, Candy could be described as the opposite of a child, as he is the oldest person on the ranch; and has the racist prejudices that children only learn of when they grow older. On the other hand, Candy does have some similarities to children, as he will soon be too old to ‘swamp out … bunk houses’, and will therefore be a dependent, just like children. Candy also has a constant companion, his dog, which is similar to how little children have imaginary friends and special toys that they carry around everywhere with them. By subtly comparing Candy to young children, Steinbeck creates sympathy for him and his vulnerability.
Candy’s name also has the suffix ‘-y’. Similar names with the suffix ‘-y’ are usually shortened versions of longer names, that show endearment. This gives the reader a sense of warmth for Candy, and sympathy for his plight on the farm. Steinbeck creates sympathy for Candy in many ways; however he also creates antipathy for the character. In giving Candy both a side to sympathise with as well as a side to dislike, the author creates Candy as a realistic character. Although Candy does have some faults, Steinbeck allows the reader to easily have sympathy for him.