Sunday, October 30, 2005
The Use of Clones Part 2
John Steinbeck uses a cast of clones in his novel, Of Mice and Men. The armature of that story is that people need companionship. It is both dramatized as well as stated. If it has been a while since you’ve read it, I suggest you reread it soon. It is amazingly well-crafted. He knows what he wants to say and says it over and over again in different ways. And he does give you an intellectual idea on an emotional level.
In the story, George and Lennie are two migrant workers who travel and work together. Lennie, being mentally challenged, is a lot of trouble for George, but his love for Lennie and his needs for companionship are worth the trouble. Other characters even comment on how strange it is for these two to travel together.
One of the first things that happens is that George discovers that Lennie is petting a dead mouse he is keeping in his pocket. Lennie is a huge man and has no sense of his own strength and had killed the mouse by accident. Lennie enjoys the companionship of small, soft animals, and is obsessed with one day having rabbits to take care of.
When the duo reaches the ranch where they are to work, one of the people they meet is the boss’s wife. She often flirts with the ranch hands because her husband doesn’t pay attention to her—she craves companionship.
There is also on this ranch an old man who has on old dog. The other hands in the bunkhouse think the dog is worthless. A man named Carlson suggests that the man shoot the stinky old dog because it has, as he puts it, “‘Got no teeth,’ he said. ‘He’s all stiff with rheumatism. He ain’t no good to you.’”
The scene goes on with Candy, the old man, protesting, but Carlson won’t let go of his idea that the dog should be shot.
Candy looked about unhappily. “No,” he said softly. “No, I couldn't do that. I had ’im too long.”
“He don't have no fun,” Carlson insisted. “And he stinks to beat hell. Tell you what. I'll shoot him for you. Then it won't be you what does it.”
Candy threw his legs off his bunk. He scratched the white stubble whiskers on his cheek nervously. “I’m so used to him,” he said softly. “I had him from a pup.”
“Well, you ain’t bein’ kind to him keepin’ him alive,” said Carlson. “Look, Slim’s bitch got a litter right now. I bet Slim would give you one of them pups to raise up, wouldn’t you, Slim?”
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 get old an’ a cripple.”
Candy looked helplessly at him, for Slim’s opinions were law. “Maybe it’d hurt him,” he suggested. “I don’t mind takin’ care of him.”
Carlson said: “The way I’d shoot him, he wouldn’t feel nothing. I’d put the gun right there.” He pointed with his toe. “Right back of the head. He wouldn’t even quiver.”
At last Carlson said: “If you want me to, I’ll put the old devil out of his misery right now and get it over with. Ain’t nothing left for him. Can’t eat, can’t see, can’t even walk without hurtin’.”
Candy said hopefully: “You ain’t got no gun.”
“The hell I ain’t. Got a Luger. It won’t hurt him none at all.”
Candy said: “Maybe tomorra. Le’s wait till tomorra.”
“I don’t see no reason for it,” said Carlson. He went to his bunk, pulled his bag from underneath it, and took out a Luger pistol. “Let’s get it over with,” he said. “We can’t sleep with him stinkin’ around in here.” He put the pistol in his hip pocket.
Candy looked a long time at Slim to try to find some reversal. And Slim gave him none. At last Candy said softly and hopelessly: “Awright—take ’im.” He did not look down at the dog at all. He lay back on his bunk and crossed his arms behind his head and stared at the ceiling.
From his pocket Carlson took a little leather thong. He stooped over and tied it around the dog’s neck. All the men except Candy watched him. “Come, boy. Come on, boy,” he said gently. And he said apologetically to Candy: “He won't even feel it,” Candy did not move nor answer him. He twitched the thong. “Come on, boy.” The old dog got slowly and stiffly to his feet and followed the gently-pulling leash.
Carlson takes the dog out to shoot him, and the old man lies on his back looking at the ceiling, and after an agonizingly long time, a shot is heard in the distance. With this, Candy rolls over in his bunk and faces the wall.
We see how much this stinky, old dog means to this man. The dog and the old man are clones of Lennie and George.
How do I know that I’m not reading all of this into the story? One way to know is the repetition of the armature. It is dramatized over and over again. The scene where they shoot the old man’s dog is a well-written scene, but what makes it great is that it nails home the armature using emotion to do so.