The next morning, George and Lennie reach the ranch around ten o’clock. They go to the bunkhouse, a long rectangular room filled with beds and shelves made of apples boxes. The room also has a table for playing cards. An old ranch hand assures George that the boss is a nice man and that the place is very clean, in spite of the insect repellent that George spies on his bed.
The boss enters the room and inquires of George the reason for being a day late to work. George explains that they had to walk a long way. When the boss asks for their names, George tells him both names and explains that Lennie is a slow thinker but a strong, hard worker. He also says that Lennie is his cousin, who he has watched after for a long time at his aunt’s request.
After the boss leaves, George reminds Lennie once again about behaving correctly and not talking needlessly to the other ranch hands or to the boss. Candy, an old cripple who does some of the small chores on the ranch, overhears their conversation. When George confronts him, Candy denies hearing a word. Curley, the boss’s son, interrupts them; he has come looking for his father. When he spies Lennie, he begins asking him questions. George always answers for Lennie, which angers Curley. He rudely demands that Lennie answer him directly in the future.
When Curley leaves, Candy tells George that the young man used to be a lightweight boxer and picks fights with everybody, especially men that are bigger than he. As a forewarning, George proclaims that Curley had better not attempt a fight with Lennie. Candy then tells George about Curley’s new wife. He describes her as a flirtatious woman who has eyes for every man on the ranch. After Candy leaves, George warns Lennie about Curley and tells him not to lose his temper around him, no matter what happens. He also reminds Lennie of the hiding place by the stream.
Curley’s wife enters, looking for her husband, and stays, flirting with George, even after she is told that Curley has gone. Lennie, staring at her, outwardly shows he is impressed with her beauty. After she leaves, George tells him he must not stare at her again and warns Lennie that any contact with the lady will cause a direct confrontation with Curley. Lennie is scared and upset. He wants to leave the ranch and says that “this ain’t no good place. . .it’s mean here.” George reminds him that they must earn some money if they are ever to have their own farm. Lennie understands and agrees. Ironically, their staying on the ranch destroys the dream. For once, George should have paid attention to Lennie’s intuition.
Slim, a ranch hand that commands respect, comes into the bunkhouse for lunch and strikes up a conversation in a friendly tone. He asks George and Lennie to become part of his team. Carlson, another ranch hand, walks in and talks about Slim’s dog having a new litter of pups. They decide to give one of the puppies to Candy to replace his old, blind, and stinking mutt. When Candy and Carlson leave, George promises to ask for one of the puppies for Lennie. He instinctively knows that his friend wants one for a pet.
Curley comes in again, looking for his wife. When he leaves the room, George
has a premonition that Curley will cause problems.
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.
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