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Analyse the presentation of Crooks in “Of Mice and Men”. Comment on how this helps to create a realistic picture of 1930’s California John Steinbeck’s “Of mice and men” was written in the 1930’s, a time of great depression throughout the world. It was a time when racism was still widespread in America. It is based on a ranch in California. In the story Crooks is the only black person on the ranch. Crooks is disabled, with a crooked back where “a horse once kicked him”.
It describes him as having “pain tightened lips” because of this. He is also described as being “a proud aloof man”. He is shown to be an educated man through the fact that he owns a dictionary and tries to research what rights he does have by using his “mauled copy of the California civil code for 1905.” The fact that Steinbeck uses the word mauled infers that it was used a great deal.
In the story, Crooks was treated with little respect. He acts like he wants no real contact with the white workers on the ranch by “keeping his distance and demanding that other people kept theirs”. I think that he really wanted some friends but doesn’t show it because no-one will be friends with him. The boss also has no respect for him and takes his anger out on him for no reason when he is mad. He lives in a tack room built onto the side of the barn because he is unwanted in the bunkhouse. This is probably due to the fact that the society of the time believed in racial segregation. He has no friends on the ranch and is totally isolated. He had no rights or a say on what goes on on the ranch or in America for that matter. There were thousands like him all over America that were stuck in the same situation.
They were not treated well for what seems to me a trivial reason. The book was very controversial at the time as Steinbeck portrays Crooks as being the same inside as any other man. This is a view that challenged all of the other contemporary views at the time. A lot of people were outraged at this as they thought of Crooks and other black people as somehow inferior to them. The fact that we only meet Crooks at all is an accident. I think he hated his life there on the ranch, but had no way to get out of it. In the first part of the book (chapters 1-3) we find out the views of Crooks from the other characters there. The racism towards him may have been innocent as the racism in the country then was inherent (passed down through the generations).
We now move on to chapter 4, where we find out about Crooks and his own opinions through an accidental encounter with Lennie. It all starts when Lennie is in the barn with his pup and everyone else has gone into town. He sees the light from Crooks’ little hut which is built into the barn. He stumbles in and Crooks acts like Lennie is unwanted – “Crooks scowled but Lennie’s disarming smile defeated him.” I think that he actually thought about it and realised that he could do with some company.
Steinbeck uses Lennie’s character to ‘accidentally’ stumble upon him because Lennie does not understand the political views of the world at that time, so he walks right in and talks to him the right way, treating him with respect, as he would anyone else. Crooks then settles down a bit and pours out what seems to be his entire life story to Lennie, now he finally has someone to talk to. He tells him about his life before working on the ranch. He speaks of the fact he was happy before, and says that his father had a chicken ranch. Maybe this meant he would prefer to be back there, missing his relatives who he knows would treat him as an equal. He also talks about that he used to play with the local white kids and that his “ol’ man did not like that”.
He then proceeds to say “I never knew why till long later why he didn’t do that. But I know now.” During the conversation, Crooks asks Lennie what he would do if George (who he relies on completely) never came back. It seems like Crooks is getting excited over having an advantage over a white person, “Crooks’ face lighted with pleasure at his torture” but later on you think about it and realise what Crooks was trying to do. He was showing Lennie what it would be like to be him, to have no-one and be completely alone. He then explains this to Lennie: “a guy needs somebody – to be near him…A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody.” Through this we realise how truly lonely he really is.
Lennie starts talking about his and George’s dream of getting their own ranch somewhere. Candy then appears at the doorway and Crooks lets him in. Candy confirms all that Lennie says and they share their dream with him. Crooks then realises that they might succeed in getting a ranch. He then says “…If you…guys would want a hand to work for nothing – just his keep, why I’d come and lend a hand.” He suddenly realises what this could mean for him. He sees this as an opportunity to escape from his life on the ranch and make a new life for himself
He is still holding onto that dream when suddenly Curley’s wife appears in the doorway. She makes all three men feel uncomfortable. She comments that everyone else had “left the weak ones here.” This is ironic really because what she doesn’t realise is that she too is classed as a ‘weak one’ for being female (women were still unable to vote then and males were the dominant gender). Crooks is then taken in by the dream to the extent that he forgot his place.
For a moment he seems as brave as any man. He stood up to Curley’s wife and demands her to leave – “You ain’t got no rights comin’ in a coloured man’s room…Now you just get out.” Curley’s wife then threatens him: “You keep your place Nigger. I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it wouldn’t even be funny.” The reality then hits him. His dreams shattered. He then remembers his place, at the bottom of society. “Crooks had reduced himself to nothing. There was no personality, no ego – nothing to arouse either like or dislike.” Being threatened like this pushes him back down to earth, and he realises that she is right. She could easily get him lynched if she wanted to.
I think that overall Steinbeck succeeds in creating a roughly realistic picture of the general attitudes towards racism in the 1930’s. He creates a convincing character in Crooks that makes you think of the ethics behind racism overall. Why does it happen? Why are people different on the outside any different on the inside? I think that Steinbeck’s intentions were to present these and other questions to the reader and make them think about the reasoning behind traditional racist attitudes.