Orson Welles, Citizen Kane actor and director, once remarked, “If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story” (BrainyQuote.com). The occurrence of a happy ending is prevalent in John Steinbeck’s novel, Of Mice and Men, in which its characters desperately look forward to achieving their American Dreams. The protagonists, George and Lennie, are two migrant workers who arrive on a ranch in California’s Salinas River Valley during the Great Depression. Lennie, a large, mentally disabled man, is taken care of by George, who leads the duo. The two experience many events on the ranch, but they have set their eyes on making enough money to own a farm and be free from the dangers of the world. On the ranch, multiple people aspire to fulfill their American Dreams, and others, Crooks and Candy, express interest in George and Lennie’s goal. Unfortunately, many characters’ dreams do not come true due to circumstances, such as loneliness, racism, and especially death. Two characters, Lennie and Candy’s dog, face their doom in an act of euthanasia, the killing of a person or thing to relieve pain. Steinbeck’s portrayal of euthanasia in a positive light is justified, especially in a dog-eat-dog world.
A crucial example of euthanasia in Of Mice and Men, the shooting of Candy’s dog is intended to keep it from suffering from old age. Because his dog has nothing left to serve, the workers on the ranch pressure Candy, an old man who lost his hand, into “put[ting] the old [dog] out of his misery” (Steinbeck 47). To stop the dog from feeling pain and living a hopeless life, Candy makes the decision to have his feeble, blind dog killed, marking his acceptance of the workers’ attempts to persuade him. In a world where the weak are eliminated and only the strong survive, the decision shows how killing the dog is completely normal and just. In addition, the others prove to Candy that the death is necessary by claiming “that dog ain’t no good to himself” (Steinbeck 45). Conveying that it’s better to kill the dog, the author proves it shouldn’t have to hurt and lead a miserable life. Making it an ongoing topic, Steinbeck brings up euthanasia during essential events like the death of Curley’s dog. Therefore, the book makes the idea acceptable to put down the dog in order to stop it from undergoing any more pain.
Similar to what happened to Curley’s dog, Lennie’s fate is that George shoots Lennie to save him from his doom. For instance, after the ranch workers discover that Lennie killed Curley’s wife, a search party is formed because “Curley [wants] to shoot [Lennie]” (Steinbeck 97). Until George intervenes, this significant point in the story demonstrates that Lennie will either suffer from getting shot by Curley or rotting in a cell alone. Proving Lennie is doomed and will be in pain no matter what, Steinbeck’s reasoning justifies why Lennie must face death from his best friend. Furthermore, George raises his gun “close to the back of Lennie’s head” and pulls the trigger as Lennie reminisces about their dream farm, making “[Lennie] lay without quivering” and killing him (Steinbeck 106). The abrupt ending of Lennie’s life by George is not malicious; George intends to give Lennie a painless death from someone he loved, not someone with ill intentions. Since Lennie could face many other outcomes with much more distress, the outcome of the situation reveals why Steinbeck puts George’s decision to euthanize Lennie in almost a heroic light. Thus, Lennie’s death is due to the need to relieve him of any possible pain in the future.
In essence, Of Mice and Men indulges in the idea of ending one’s suffering as a logical decision. Going through the same fate, Curley’s dog and Lennie are killed for their own benefit, not out of hate. Using death, Steinbeck represents how events will never go their intended route, no matter how well thought out a plan may be. Controversially, this small, yet key theme of the book captures why it is necessary for the characters to experience pain and come to terms with it. Indeed, John Steinbeck’s novel covers raw and honest subjects like no other.
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