Carlson in Of Mice and Men: Description & Quotes

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  • 0:02 Carlson in 'Of Mice and Men'
  • 1:03 Character Description
  • 2:23 Candy's Dog
  • 3:11 Connections to Other…
  • 4:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

When analyzing a work of literature, it is important not to discount the side characters. In this lesson, you'll learn about Carlson in John Steinbeck's 'Of Mice and Men' and the role he played in the book.

Carlson in Of Mice and Men

It's easy when reading a story to focus your attention on the main characters. After all, they're the ones present continuously throughout the story, and the plot and events revolve around them. It's important, however, to look at the side characters too. They often have strong influences in the story, and in some cases their actions might foreshadow later actions of the main characters.

This is the case with Carlson in John Steinbeck's novella Of Mice and Men. A novella is a literary work that is longer than a short story but not as long as a novel. Published in 1937, Steinbeck's novella tells the story of two migrant workers in California: Lennie Small, a giant of a man who is slow and dim-witted and his best friend and the man who watches over him, George Milton. Within this story, Steinbeck introduces many side characters. One of them is a man named Carlson, who actually plays an important role in the story as a whole, and whose actions foreshadow a future action by George.

Character Description of Carlson

Carlson is one of the current workers on the ranch where Lennie and George go to work. Most of his descriptions revolve around his size. His first appearance is a good example of this: 'A powerful, big-stomached man came into the bunk house.' Later, Steinbeck writes: 'The thick-bodied Carlson came in out of the darkening yard.' Both of these quotes are focused on the fact that he is a large, powerful man.

Carlson is also friendly, pleasant to the other workers, and pays close attention to what is going on. For example, he asks Slim about his dog when he doesn't see her around. When he finds out she had her puppies, he suggests giving one to Candy, whose dog is very old.

In addition, we see that Carlson is not easily frightened. This is especially clear in an encounter he has with Curley. Curley has been established as a pretty good amateur boxer, so Carlson would have a good reason to be nervous when Curley threatens him. Nevertheless, he simply laughs and says: 'You… punk.... You tried to throw a scare into Slim, an' you couldn't make it stick. Slim throwed a scare into you. You're yella as a frog belly. I don't care if you're the best welter in the country. You come for me, an' I'll kick your… head off.' Clearly, Curley's threat doesn't even phase Carlson.

Candy's Dog

There is, however, one event in the novella where Carlson is a major player, rather than a side character. This is the scene with Candy's dog. Carlson has watched the dog limp around for a long time, and he wants to put him out of his misery. He talks to Candy about it, saying: 'If you want me to, I'll put the old devil out of his misery right now and get it over with. Ain't nothing left for him. Can't eat, can't see, can't even walk without hurtin'.'

Carlson doesn't want to watch the dog suffer anymore, and he offers to put the dog down himself because Candy has had the dog so long that he cannot do it. Candy is worried that it might hurt the dog, but Carlson quickly tries to reassure him. He promises: 'The way I'd shoot him, he wouldn't feel nothing.' In the end, Candy lets Carlson take the dog out and put him down.

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