In the novella ‘Of Mice and Men’ the character of Crooks is subject to constant racial discrimination. This shows the time period of the book as 1930’s America was a very prejudice place. Although slavery has been abolished some 90 years previously living conditions were still awful and even worse for some black Americans. They were segregated with poorer facilities, people wouldn’t employ them and living conditions were just generally awful for most. The work situation was not helped by the ‘Wall Street Crash’ in 1929.
The collapse of the banks and stocks meant the many were out of work and so any and every job and far too many applicants. So, what with all the white people wanting jobs, a black person’s chances getting a job were even smaller than the small number of chances before. Crook, the only black character in ‘Of Mice and Men’, is immediately put in a disadvantaged position. Steinbeck immediately makes it very clear that Crooks is black in quotations such as ‘Sure. Ya see the stable buck’s a nigger.
This being the first time we hear about Crooks in the novella and the reference to him as ‘a nigger’ instead of ‘Crooks’ instantaneously puts him at a disadvantage as the only character, so far, without a name. Crooks that experiences isolation because the society in which he resides is racist. The quote “A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody. Don’t matter no difference who the guy is, longs he with you. I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an he gets sick” was his way of finding a personal connection to Lennie.
Like Lennie, Crooks has a ‘relationship’ with loneliness. Crooks is rejected from every group of people and cannot socially interact with others properly due to this rejection. It could be suggested that, when he see’s Lennie’s similar inability to interact with society, that he lets down his hostile guard a little. This is evident in the quotation ‘Crooks scowled, but Lennie’s disarming smile defeated him. ’ Stienbeck’s choice of the word ‘defeated’ depicts a slightly closer relationship, however slight, between Lennie and Crooks.
On the theme of relationships Crooks is fascinated by the strength of the friendship of Lennie and George, especially how close they are. Crooks said, “Well, s’pose, jus’ s’pose he don’t come back. What’ll you do then? ” Crooks asks these questions because he doesn’t have any companions, and wouldn’t know how loosing them unexpectedly would feel. He was curious and envious of the friendship of Lennie and George and, in the understanding of Lennie’s slowness, he takes advantage of the situation to torture him mentally which to make him feel better about having no one.
He also does this to ease his jealousy towards the friendship Lennie has, that he will probably never have. Crooks bears a loneliness that stems from his rejection from society. A quotation that supports this is “Cause I’m black. They play cards in there, but I can’t play because I’m Black. They say I stink. Well I tell you, you all stink to me! ” Crooks isn’t allowed to participate in white people’s social games because he’s black. His understanding of this is made clear by his repetition of the phrase ‘because i’m black. ’ His rejection is extended to his exclusion from the bunkhouse.
Crooks is made to sleep in the stable, making him physically isolated from the rest of the ranch. Leading on from this Crooks’ behavior mirrors his rejection. The quotation ‘you got no right to come in my room. ’ The words ‘you got no right’ demonstrate his attempts to mimic the behavior shown towards him everyday. However, despite his best efforts to maintain this behavior, his want for inclusion on the ranch seeps through his rock like exterior. This is shown in the quotation ‘it was difficult for Crooks to conceal his pleasure with anger.
It could be suggested that stienbecks use of the word ‘conceal’ could imply that Crooks is trying to keep up an attitude towards others that resembles the way that they treat him despite this meaning him generally pushing people away from his and therefore making him more lonely and outcast. Crooks is striving to achieve sympathy and understanding from others. His yearn for this is shown in the quotation ‘if you… guys would want a hand to work for nothing – just his keep, why i’d come an’ lend a hand. I ain’t so crippled I can’t work like a son of a bitch if i have to’ This shows that
Crooks would work for nothing if it meant communicating with others. He is also keen to join as he is aware that, being black and with a worsening disability, his days on the ranch are numbered and so he is trying to carve a safe route ahead for himself. To conclude I think that Crooks is a product of racial discrimination in the 1930’s. His anti-social behavior and attitude towards others is clearly a reflection of his treatment by society. Steinbeck emphasizes this by not teaching us much beyond the factors that relate to his color or the way he is treated by society.