The Topic of Euthanasia in John Steinbecks Novella Of Mice and Men
Euthanasia, the killing of a living thing in an effort to spare pain or suffering, is controversial when done on animals, let alone humans. For example, Jack Kevorkian, who was a euthanasia activist and assisted in the suicide of more than 130 people, was convicted of murder and was sent to prison. Think of a dog shelter. Often times, dogs are rescued and left in the care of local dog shelters. The unfortunate end for almost half the dogs is they are euthanized due to reasons such as not enough resources or workers don’t see a high adoption chance for the animal after too much time has passed. In Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, euthanasia is portrayed when Lennie is killed by George, Curley’s wife is killed by Lennie, and Candy’s dog is killed by Carlson. Though all instances were examples of euthanasia, the motives, situation, and consequences were all different.
Lennie was given a swift and painless death by George as George knew Curley would not be so kind if he got his hands on Lennie. Lennie, in a fit of confusion and fear, accidentally killed Curley’s wife. Curley was also angry at Lennie for breaking his hand. George knew Curley’s intentions and saved Lennie from suffering. Although Lennie’s eventual end was death, George helped Lennie avoid a painful death by Curley, shown when Curley says, ‘I’m gonna shoot the guts outa that big bastard myself, even if I only got one hand. I’m gonna get ‘im.’ (98) Curley was mad at Lennie for both breaking his hand and for killing his wife. George knew Curley wasn’t going to show Lennie any mercy and decided it was better to give Lennie a quick death.
George didn’t want Lennie to suffer when he died. This is shown in the text as George is about to shoot Lennie when the author writes “The hand shook violently, but his face set and his hand steadied. He pulled the trigger.”(106) George was reluctant, but knew what was best for Lennie. He gave Lennie a quick death and while he was at his happiest time, to minimalize Lennie’s suffering. George, seeing Curley’s current mental state, realizes death is inevitable for Lennie. He tries to prevent as much suffering as possible by giving Lennie a quick death when he’s happiest.
Lennie’s death completely differs from Curley’s wife’s death. Although her death was an accident, she had a negative view on her life. Lennie, in a fit of confusion and fear, accidentally breaks the neck of Curley’s wife. Although her death was an accident, because she had a negative view on her life, it could be considered euthanasia. While in the barn, she confides in Lennie, telling him ‘I don’t like Curley. He ain’t a nice fella.”(89) She has to live with Curley, and yet she doesn’t even like him. She also had an opportunity to have a better life, shown when she says “I never got that letter.’ she said, ‘I always thought my ol’ lady stole it.””(88) Often when people had a chance to have something that’s good or better, but lose it, they dwell on it and think how bad their life is now, and it ends up just making their lives worse. Although an accidental death, Curley’s wife’s death could be considered euthanasia due to her hating her life; she did not like her husband, she was lonely, and she had a negative view on her life after losing an opportunity for a better life.
Again different is Candy’s dog’s death. Animal euthanasia is legal while human euthanasia or “assisted suicide” as it’s referred to today is illegal and considered murder. Candy’s dog was shot by Carlson for both selfish reasons such as it smelled and to prevent suffering. Candy had his dog ever since it was a pup and is very hesitant in putting down his dog, but eventually relents after being pressured by the other ranch workers. Candy’s dog was his only companion. He eventually relented due to peer pressure, he said “softly and hopelessly, ‘Awright. Take ‘im..”” (47) He was reluctant to kill his dog, even when he knew it was suffering. He was trying to think of a way out, but eventually relented after finding none.
After Carlson shoots Candy’s dog, Candy tells George ‘I ought to have shot that dog myself, George. I shouldn’t ought to of let no stranger shoot my dog.” (61) Candy’s dog was his responsibility. If anyone was going to shoot his dog, it might as well be him. Although guild may be an issue, it’s better than letting a stranger who has no business doing it. He should take it into his own hands and not let anyone influence him. Candy, although reluctant in agreeing to shoot his dog, also regretted letting anyone other than himself do the deed, as the person should be a trusted or close person, rather than a stranger with no business in it.
Euthanasia,, a topic that’s is heavily criticized and has many controversies surrounding it, comes up in the novel Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck when Lennie is killed by George, Curley’s wife is killed by Lennie, and Candy’s dog is killed by Carlson. Like animals in animal shelters, the characters are euthanized due to reasons such as to avoid pain or suffering. Fear is often felt in situations like euthanasia, both for the receiving and giving party. But more often than not, it is for the better for the person.
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