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In this second chapter, Steinbeck vividly describes the remaining important characters of the story. Candy is pictured as old, bored, and physically handicapped, with a wooden stick for a right arm. He is a keen observer as he goes about his chores and knows about most things that go on at the ranch. He is compared to his old mutt, his constant companion. The boss of the ranch is the second important person introduced in the chapter. Although described as a nice man, he is irritable by nature and voices his displeasure when George answers the questions addressed to Lennie. The boss’ son, Curley, is next introduced. He comes in with his hands covered in Vaseline, for he wants them to remain soft and smooth for his wife. Although he is short, he is solid, having trained as a lightweight boxer. He is also vain and rude, trying to mask his insecurity and inferiority complex. To hide his weaknesses and size, he acts big and tries to pick fights, enjoying hurting someone. He is a total contrast to Lennie, who is huge in stature and hates hurting anything. As a person, Curley definitely introduces a note of the ominous into the novel.
Curley’s wife is introduced next. She is painted as a vulgar woman who
is quite proud of her position on the ranch as the boss’s daughter-in-law.
She wears heavy make-up and flirts with every man on the ranch. Not understanding
her appearance or her motives, the innocent Lennie thinks she is pretty.
Slim is a friendly man, who asks Lennie and George to join his team. He
is described as a man in his late thirties, who loves his job and is neat
and clean. He is also a thinking man, who ponders things. When he learns
Lennie and George are together, he comments, ‘I don’t know why many
guys don’t travel together. Maybe the whole world is afraid of each other.’
Again in this chapter, Steinbeck demonstrates how George protects Lennie. He answers the boss’s questions about Lennie, even though it causes the boss to be angry. He does the same when Curley questions Lennie. After learning about Curley’s background, George warns Lennie to stay away from him. He also tells Lennie he must never again stare at Curley’s wife. George obviously senses that things are not going to be easy for he and Lennie on the ranch with Curley and his wife around. As a result, he reminds Lennie once again about the hiding place in the bushes by the stream. In spite of his slowness, Lennie also has an ominous feeling about the ranch and says, “This ain’t no good place.”
In addition to his intense devotion towards Lennie, George has a strong moral sense. Even though he does not like Curley, he does not like it when the men tease Curley for wearing a glove full of Vaseline. He says, “That’s a dirty thing to tell around.” George is also pictured as being concerned about cleanliness, inspecting his bunk for bed bugs and asking questions about the insecticide on the shelf. His cleanliness is in direct contrast to Lennie, who carries a dead, dirty mouse in his pocket and thinks nothing of drinking stagnant water.
This end of the chapter focuses on the fact that Slim’s dog has given birth to puppies. Carlson and Slim decide that Candy’s old, blind dog needs to be killed and replaced with one of the new puppies. The manner in which the death of the dog is planned suggests the violence and brutality of life on the ranch. When Lennie hears about the puppies, he immediately wants one for a pet. The kind George promises to ask Slim for one.
It is important to notice the clear, simple style of this chapter. There is considerable dialogue that reveals much about the characters. Using the third person, impersonal narrator, Steinbeck also gives a clear, crisp picture of the events that transpire in the bunkhouse, without making any personal comment. He begins the scene by describing the physical bareness of the ranch and the bunkhouse, creating a feeling of foreboding; by the end of the chapter, he has created a fully ominous feeling, due to the personalities of Curley and his wife. Both George and Lennie have a bad reaction to the ranch.