Long ago there was a movie whose setting was, like Mice and Men, the Great Depression. The title of this movie was They Shoot Horses Don't They? and the plot centered around the desperate lives of people duringthe depression of the 1930s. The central action of this film revolved around the marathon dances held at the time in which people could win money if they were the last couple standing. Poor people endeavored, therefore, to dance for hours and hours in the hope of attaining money with which they could eat. However, many of them collapsed and suffered greatly in their efforts. Their pitiful actions and miserable lives were portrayed in detail; their situations were so painfully tragic that, finally, one dancer, weakened and sick from hours on her feet asked the man who held the money, "They shoot horses, don't they?" But, people must bear their terrible misery.
Is he morally justified? Would a man not shoot any other animal that suffers? It is no coincidence that Steinbeck uses animal terms for Lennie, and that he precedes Lennie's death with the death of Candy's old dog.
George chose to keep Lennie from bearing a terrible misery. Lennie, who has been described in animal terms, is shot as a horse is shot: to put him out of his misery.
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Of Mice and Men: George Killed Lennie for Merciful Reasons A true friendship is one in which friends care deeply enough to anticipate one another’s needs and are willing to put their friend’s needs before their own. Their mutual love enables them to make sacrifices only to protect each other. In the novella, Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck, George killing Lennie is a merciful kill to save others from Lennie’s unintentional acts of aggression, to spare Lennie from suffering a cruel death, and instead ensuring a peaceful and quick departure one that will cause George the least regrets.
George begins to see a pattern of aggression coming from Lennie and wants to put it to an end because Lennie is hurting too many others unintentionally and he sees Lennie is quick to frustrate and panic and is lacking in the ability to control his violent reactions. Lennie has killed many mice, a pup, and finally a woman. Although Lennie may not want to kill any other living beings, it is in his nature to become aggressive and angry when frustrated. He typically believes he “‘wasn’t doin’ nothing bad’ ” (Steinbeck 9) with the mice and he was “‘Jus’ strokin’ it’ ” (Steinbeck 9).
He cannot contain his anger and that often leads to an unrestrained use of his strength. Because Lennie never has the intention to kill anything, he can feel an immense amount of guilt and remorse as seen when he runs out of the barn crying, “‘I done a real bad thing… I shouldn’t of did that’” (Steinbeck 92), after killing Curley’s wife. Despite Lennie’s remorse, he does not grasp the severity and the consequences of his actions. This is not so much due to Lennie’s slowness but more because of George’s protective nature, preventing Lennie from ever having to face any consequences.
Nonetheless, George sees that Lennie is unable to learn from his mistakes and fears the pattern is going to continue and that he is unable to change Lennie. George feels justified in killing Lennie because he knows that in the long run he would be able to spare many other lives and prevent Lennie from all the pain and anguish from the remorse Lennie feels after his aggressions. George’s decision to kill his best friend is to prevent a horrific and undeserved fate that awaits Lennie unless there is some intervention. He does not want Lennie to be killed by Curley or sent to jail.
George clearly can sense Curley’s anger and vindictive nature about Lennie killing his wife. It is quite apparent that Curley wants justice and revenge and is determined to make Lennie suffer: “Curley’s face reddened. ‘I’m goin’… I’m gonna shoot the guts outta that big bastard myself” (Steinbeck 98). Shooting Lennie in the gut would cause he him to slowly bleed to death, ensuring a long, painful death. Even if Curley is not to succeed in killing Lennie in this gruesome manner, the other likely outcome is that Lennie is sentenced and put in jail for potentially a lifetime.
Initially, in light of the possibility of Curley’s revenge, George considers jail to be a safe haven: “Guess… We gotta tell the… guys. I guess we gotta get ‘im an’ lock ‘im up. We can’t let ‘im get away… ’ And he tries to reassure himself, ‘Maybe they’ll lock ‘im up and be nice to ‘im” (Steinbeck 94). However, upon further consideration, George realizes that Lennie is incapable of living on his own and fending for himself in jail and will not last. Either outcome would result in a miserable and slow death for Lennie, and George could not allow this to happen to his best friend.
This is how he reaches the conclusion that it is necessary for George, himself, to kill Lennie in a humane fashion in order to give him a quick and peaceful death. By shooting Lennie himself, George minimizes his own pain for not letting Lennie die at the hands of a stranger and can also control Lennie’s last thoughts and feelings. Earlier on in the novella, Candy feels deep regret for not being the one to end his dog’s life and he tells George, “’I oughtta shot that dog myself… I shouldn’t oughtta let no stranger shoot my dog’” (Steinbeck 61).
Candy and his dog were lifelong friends and companions, as were Lennie and George. Candy’s regret makes a lasting impression and Georges recognizes that he too cannot live letting anyone else take Lennie’s life. Moreover, he ensures that Lennie last moments are filled with joyous thoughts as he strikes up a conversation about Lennie’s favorite topic: “’And I get to tend the rabbits. ’” (Steinbeck 105) said Lennie, “‘An’ you get to tend the rabbits. ’”(Steinbeck 105) responded George, then “Lennie giggled with happiness. ” (Steinbeck 105).
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And lastly, as George’s last act of friendship, he reassures Lennie with his final words that is he is not mad at Lennie nor that he’s ever been. This is to award Lennie with as much peace as a friend could. Overall, Lennie is in a much better place once he dies. He does not to suffer a long and painful death; he would not hurt any other humans or animals and is spared the resulting remorse. George feels great loss and is shaken afterward despite knowing he is justified in actions. This is a compassionate homicide and George is a true friend. He looks out for Lennie’s needs and makes sacrifices to the end.
Author: Josh Garten
Of Mice and Men: George Killed Lennie for Merciful Reasons
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