In the novel “Of Mice and Men”, the character of Crooks is used by John Steinbeck, the author, to symbolise the downgrading of the black community occurring at the time in which the novel was set. Crooks is also significant as he provides an insight into the reality of the American Dream and the feelings of the people in the ranch; their loneliness and need for company. Steinbeck presents Crooks as a victim of racism and throughout the book, he is called by the name ‘nigger’.
Being black, Crooks is hated on the ranch. “Ya see, the stable buck’s a nigger”.
The use of this word dehumanises Crooks and shows how black people at the time, had no rights at all. He also says, “If I say something, why it’s just a nigger sayin’ it” and this shows his anger about being brutalised. However, another quote shows how threatened violence is used against black people and how the same term ‘nigger’ is repeated throughout the book.
“Listen nigger(… ), you know what I can do if you open your trap? (… )I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny”. Curley’s wife takes advantage of Crooks having a go at her and threatens Crooks into getting lynched.
Lynching was very common in the 1930’s and Crooks ‘seemed to grow smaller’. The use of this oxymoron emphasises how he tries to fight back yet Curley’s wife’s social status was better than Crooks’ mainly because of his race. Furthermore, Curley’s wife uses the word ‘nigger’ and it also dehumanises Crooks and puts him ‘in his right place’. Curley’s wife is also near the bottom of the social ladder as well as Crooks worldly Despite the fact that Crooks is a victim of racism, Steinbeck presents Crooks as a dignified human being.
At first glance, this is not obvious as Crooks sleeps in what is described as ‘a long box filled with straw’. This quote shows how he is presented as an animal because black people at that time, were treated as slaves. Not only does Steinbeck give him a life and a voice, but he tries to show Crook’s life in the book with how black people were treated in real life. Steinbeck also tries not to represent Crooks as ‘just a slave’. Steinbeck tries to defend Crooks by writing about how he stood up for his rights against Curley’s wife when she entered his private space, “I had enough (… you got no rights comin’ in a coloured man’s room.
You got no rights messing around in here at all. ” This quote shows how Curley’s wife tries to use her superior social status against Crooks as well as dehumanising him. Another quote shows how not only does he care about himself and how he treats himself, but he also cares for the horses and the other animals in the barn. “Crooks has his apple box over his bunk, and in it a range of medicine bottles, both for himself and for the horses”.
It also shows that he is well organised and that he cares for the animals like he cares for himself. He also takes pride in what he does. Another quote shows how even though he knows he has rights, they are still worth nothing, “And he had books too; a tattered dictionary and a mauled copy of the California Civil Code for 1900’s”. This quote also shows that he is worried about his education and that he is intelligent even though others on the ranch thought that black people aren’t clever. The books must have been used a lot and so he knows the rights that he should have.
Therefore, Crooks is presented as a dignified human being despite the fact that he is disregarded and mistreated by others on the ranch. Although Crooks is a dignified human being, Steinbeck also presents him as a cruel and unpleasant man at times. This is shown most obviously when Lennie attempts to make friends with him in part four of the novel. At first, when Lennie tries to enter his room, Crooks says, “you got no rights to come in my room. This here’s my room”, and he becomes very defensive. The fact that he repeats the phrase ‘my room’ shows he is feeling vulnerable.
His room is the only place where he can have some privacy and have a sense of safety and this is important to Crooks because he doesn’t have much and is frequently abused by those around him. Steinbeck also writes, ‘Crooks said sharply’ and the word ‘sharply’ supports this idea because it shows it is an immediate reaction to the intrusion. It is also like a defence mechanism as he feels slightly paranoid about what is about to happen. He lets Lennie in his room eventually but he continues to torment him, ‘his voice grew soft and persuasive’.
Crooks tries to use persuasive language in order to insult Lennie and take advantage of his condition. “Sp’ose George don’t come back no more(… )what’ll you do then? ” Crooks takes the chance to fight back from how he has been tortured in the past. He also wanted to make Lennie feel how he has been feeling for most of his life; lonely and isolated. Yet Lennie tries to fight back and Crooks gets scared and tries to carm him down. Crooks is also presented as powerless, as previously discussed it is perhaps this lack of power that leads to his bitterness.
One quote shows how Curley’s wife threatens him and Crooks sits down and doesn’t fight back, “Crooks had reduced himself to nothing. There was no personality, no ego-nothing to arouse either like or dislike”. Steinbeck tries to use metaphorical language to show that Crooks doesn’t want to be seen and that he fears for himself. It also shows that he is at the bottom of the social hierarchy mainly because he is the only black person on the ranch. The repetition of the word ‘no’ and ‘nothing’ dehumanises Crooks and makes him feel like he has nothing and he has no rights.
He is also paradoxical because sometimes he insists on himself having some rights yet he is still lonely. This is why when Lennie tries to enter his room, he has a go at him explaining them. It wasn’t until after he spoke that he realised that he could finally have some company. In those days, black people were presented as ‘lower class’ compared to others and Steinbeck embeds this in the novel to make Crooks feel powerless Another quote shows how Crooks does have some rights even though he doesn’t like them, “A coloured man got to have some rights even if he don’t like them.
It shows how Crooks knows he has rights and that it is a defence mechanism against others being racist towards him. However, when Curley’s wife interrupts them, he tries to defend himself explaining his rights but they were all worth nothing and after she went, when Crooks said do Candy that he was ‘jus’ foolin’ yet on the inside, he knows that he can never get out of the situation others put him in. When Steinbeck presents Crooks as powerless, this also links in with him being lonely and isolated.
When Crooks is talking to Lennie, he explains how a black person like him has no friends and no company, “Books ain’t no good. A guy needs somebody-to be near him,’ he whined, ‘A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody”. This shows how he is a symbol of loneliness and Crooks tries to express his feelings. Out of all the people in the ranch, the only person he could express his feelings to was Lennie, who cannot fully sympathise or understand Crooks’ situation. Not only is Crooks a symbol of loneliness, but so are Candy and Curley’s wife because they are also marginalised in the ranch.
The way Steinbeck doesn’t give Curley’s wife a name dehumanises her and makes her feel lonely. Another quote goes to Crooks’ past and how things in those days were the same, yet he didn’t know. “I ain’t a Southern Negro… I was born right here in California… The white kids come to place at our place, an’ sometimes I went to play with them… My ol’ man didn’t like that. I never knew till long later why he didn’t like that. But I know now. ” Racism was a big issue in those days and that’s why Crook’s dad didn’t like him mixing with the other white kids.
The way he says ‘I ain’t a Southern Negro’ shows that he isn’t the ‘typical slave’ that other black people were in the 1930’s and that most of the black people in America were from the South. He soon became aware of racial prejudice and he doesn’t mix easily with others on the ranch, “He kept his distance and demanded that other people kept theirs”. Crooks is also separated because he can’t sleep in the bunk house with the others mainly because of his race. Crooks is also presented as weak and damaged as he suffers both physical and emotional pain.
His name represents how he has a crooked back, “His body was bent over to the left by his crooked spine, and his eyes lay deep in his head… And he had thin, pain-tightened lips which were lighter than his face”. Steinbeck tries to emphasise how Crooks is in a lot of pain, yet he is still treated badly by the ranchers. His physical disabilities parallel with other characters including Lennie who is taken advantage of by Crooks because he behaves like a child. Crooks is also the only person in the novel who doesn’t have any hopes or dreams.
One moment in chapter four shows how Crooks has high hopes when Lennie and Candy talk about the dream but he dismisses it after Curley’s wife destroys him verbally, “I never seen a guy really do it, I seen guys nearly crazy with loneliness for land… If you… guys would want a hand to work for nothing-just his keep, why I’d come an’ lend a hand”. Crooks talks about how he has seen many people who have passed through the ranch with dreams yet most of them have failed. When Candy spreads their dream, he has high hopes, but when Curley’s wife interrupts them, she reminds him that he has no hope of sharing the dream.
In my opinion, Steinbeck does present Crooks as a victim of racism as he is like an outcast because of his colour and Steinbeck used him to show the hatred of black and white people in the 19th century. He also presents him as a dignified human being because unlike most black people at the time, Crooks did have an education. He likewise presents him as cruel and unpleasant because he enjoys torturing Lennie because he is weakened by his mental illness and he is also powerless because he is treated like all the other black people in America at the time, he has no rights at all.
He is also presented as lonely and isolated because he is dehumanised and separated from the other ranchers mainly because of his race, and he is also presented as weak and damaged both physically and mentally because of his crooked back and the loneliness that he feels. Ultimately, Crooks is a very complex character, one who has suffered and slightly gained but he is definitely presented as a victim of society. Crooks Crooks is a lively, sharp-witted, black stable-hand, who takes his name from his crooked back. Like most of the characters in the story, he admits that he is extremely lonely.
When Lennie visits him in his room, his reaction reveals this fact. At first, he turns Lennie away, hoping to prove a point that if he, as a black man, is not allowed in white men’s houses, then whites are not allowed in his, but his desire for company ultimately wins out and he invites Lennie to sit with him. Like Curley’s wife, Crooks is a disempowered character who turns his vulnerability into a weapon to attack those who are even weaker. He plays a cruel game with Lennie, suggesting to him that George is gone for good. Only when Lennie threatens him with physical violence does he relent.
Crooks exhibits the corrosive effects that loneliness can have on a person; his character evokes sympathy as the origins of his cruel behavior are made evident. Perhaps what Crooks wants more than anything else is a sense of belonging—to enjoy simple pleasures such as the right to enter the bunkhouse or to play cards with the other men. This desire would explain why, even though he has reason to doubt George and Lennie’s talk about the farm that they want to own, Crooks cannot help but ask if there might be room for him to come along and hoe in the garden.