Candy is the vulnerable “old” man on the ranch who is reaching the inevitable conclusion of his long and difficult working life. He was employed as the “swamper” because he “got hurt four years ago” in a farm accident. Knowing that he “ain’t much good with on’y one hand”, Candy is incredibly worried about his bleak future.
Unable to work with the others “bucking barley” because of his age and infirmity, he is isolated and lonely with only his dog for companionship while he cleans the drab bunkhouse and dirty wash house.
He offers George and Lennie his “two hunderd an’ fifty dollars” when he overhears their dream of owning their own farm, but the brutal death of Curley’s Wife ends all of their hopes.
Steinbeck delivers a simple but effective description of Candy as the archetypal “old” man, enabling the reader to visualise the character so we can engage closely with his experiences in the novel.
The adjective “old” is used thirty times to describe Candy so the writer clearly wants us to focus on his age. His facial hair is described as “whiskers” five times the story. Beards are an obvious signifier of masculinity but this metaphor reduces him to an animal and suggests he has lost some of his vigour.
On a ranch where physical prowess defines your worth, Candy’s age reduces his value in the eyes of the other men.
In the second chapter, Steinbeck delivers the first physical description of the character. The “old swamper” is presented as “a tall, stoop-shouldered man”. Candy’s height suggests he was once quite physically capable but the compound adjective “stoop-shouldered”, emphasised by the sibilance, reveals his frailty. Even the hyphen visually suggests this broken quality to the reader.
Candy has a “stick-like wrist, but no hand”. In “Of Mice and Men”, Steinbeck uses images of hands to define the different characters. This simile compares the end of Candy’s “wrist” to a broken and lifeless “stick”, which is quite shocking to the reader. Since he has no hand, he cannot work with the other men “bucking barley” and he remains behind on his own each day.
Candy is defined by his role on the ranch.
A swamper’s job was to clean up after the other men, making it the lowest position on the ranch. Candy continues to sweep with his “big push-broom” because he has no choice. Aware of his bleak future, Candy says:
“They’ll can me purty soon. Jus’ as soon as I can’t swamp out no bunkhouses they’ll put me on the county.”
Steinbeck presents the characters through a third-person narrative. This allows the writer to shift between the characters’ perspectives and give an unbiased account of their lives.
Without much authorial intrusion, this point of view lets the reader engage closely with Candy, gaining an objective insight into his thoughts and feelings without exaggeration, but also an understanding of the lonely world he inhabits and the challenges he faces. It also creates a sense of immediacy because the reader experiences the unexpected twists and turns of the novel along with him, especially his feeling of utter devastation when is dog is shot, evoking sympathy for “the old swamper”.
Unlike the other characters, Steinbeck reveals more and more about Candy as the novel progresses, making him one of the more dynamic figures in the story rather than reducing him to an easy archetype.