John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men

John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men

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John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men In John Steinbeck's classic novella, Of Mice and Men, one of the predominant themes that govern the story and characters in the book is friendship. One of the ways in which friendship plays a large role is in the area of mercy killing, which affects the main characters as well as the supporting ones. The two major mercy killings that occur in the book are those of Carlson's killing of

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123helpme.com/search.asp?text=candy">Candy's old dog, and of George's killing of Lennie. In both of these examples, the killer kills the other out of mercy and love, not for the usual motives of hatred, rage, anger, etc.

The killing of Candy's dog is an excellent example of mercy killing in the aforesaid novella. Candy's dog was in terrible condition, and it could barely be said that the ratty old thing was even alive. It stunk like a dozen skunks, was nearly blind, could barely hear, had arthritis that was so bad, the old mutt couldn't sit down, had no quality of life, and probably had urinary and bowel problems, a miserable condition that is almost assured in old dogs. This instance of mercy killing, however, was more driven by peer pressure than the typical case of mercy killing. When someone kills another loved one out of mercy, it is normally done to put the afflicted one out of their misery, torment, anguish, distress, etc. The other ranch hands thought that the dog reeked more than any of its other conditions, which was the only one that they, too, could experience. Candy's dog loved its master, as the two had been working together for a myriad number of years. After all of the time spent together, the two had developed a strong bond for each other, and so the dog, in its old age, was constantly following Candy around. Since Candy slept in the bunkhouse, along with the other ranch hands, the dog stunk up the bunkhouse. For this reason, they could not stand it, nor did they care too much about Candy. They decided to push Candy to put the dog out of his misery by shooting him, not for the sake of the dog, but for themselves. Candy gives in, eventually, for the sake of his dog, not the ranch hands. The killing of Candy's old dog ended his hard, painful life and represents the grand finale of a relationship that made life worth living, as well as providing hope. Later on, Candy feels remorseful over having let Carlson kill his dog, and not himself. This mercy killing, as well as the end of a hope-giving relationship foreshadows the death of Lennie, later on in the book

The other exceptional example of mercy killing in Of Mice and Men is that of the killing of Lennie Small. Lennie had many problems, both physically and mentally, that hampered him from being able to act and talk like normal people. Due to his mental issues, he neither thought nor acted correctly. Coupling this with his massive size and strength, he truly didn't know the limits of his own strength, and inadvertently killed many poor, helpless animals, simply due to the fact that when they tried to bite him, he "smarted them on the heads." While this may not be an issue with the normal populace, Lennie's ox-like strength crushed the animals' heads, killing them. Due to his aforementioned conditions, he had made himself and George lose many job opportunities, as well as get kicked out of many towns. While many of these incidents were not his fault, but just a series of good-intentioned actions gone horribly wrong, they still happened, leading to detrimental results. He was simply incapable of acting independently; he had to have the instructions of someone else, preferably George, to be able to just act around others. Even after getting instructions, he still messed up constantly. By continuing this pattern of life, he was only going to cause more trouble and inconveniences to himself and the people around him, only to cause much more grief and pain. The turning point in the story is when Lennie killed Curley's wife. While this was only another accident, one that was the fault of Curley's wife herself, the men on the ranch, particularly Curley, became enraged when they found out that the wife of their boss's son had been killed, and became determined to give Lennie a slow, painful death. In order to prevent this agony from befalling his dear friend, George took it upon himself to kill Lennie with a quick, painless death by shooting him in the back of the head. This form of killing someone results in a painless, instantaneous death, as by shooting in the back of the head as done by George and Carlson, the spinal cord is obliterated, instantly killing the victim, so that they feel nothing. George decided to kill Lennie at his very happiest, while he was thinking about their plans for their piece of land. In doing so, George prevented Lennie from causing any harm to anyone else, or himself. He also saved Lennie from any grief or pain from being executed or shot by someone without sympathy, as well as having Lennie know of his death. One moment, Lennie was bubbling over taking care of his rabbits, the next he was dead, blissfully unaware of dying. This is the noblest motive for killing, and one that was highly justified by George, as well as preferable for Lennie. "And George raised the gun and steadied it, and he brought the muzzle of it close to the back of Lennie's head. The hand shook violently, but his face set and his hand steadied. He pulled the trigger. The crash of the shot rolled up the hills and rolled down again. Lennie jarred and then settled slowly forward to the sand, he lay without quivering."(p. 106)

The theme of friendship through mercy killing in the novella Of Mice and Men is overwhelmingly present. While George killing Lennie is a classic example of mercy killing in a justified manner, Carlson killing Candy's dog is mercy killing, but not for the right reasons. This novella is well rounded with the theme of friendship, and there is no problem finding an example of it on almost any page one would choose to look on.
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