How Does Steinbeck Use The Character Of Crooks To Highlight Certain Issues Essay
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1930’s hit, America lay in financial ruins and deep devastation as the great depression strikes. Causing economic depression throughout the 20th century and leaving many lives in tatters as American citizens face losing money, stock, homes, savings and more importantly jobs. Dealing with unemployment men turn helplessly to migrant working. Moving away from home (if they have one) and getting into manual labour on farms for low pay and a place to stay although it wasn’t structured employment and they found themselves moving from place to place.
As Poverty led to working on ranches ‘of mice and men’ was born, a novel written in the late 1930’s to unravel the issues and unfair ways of the 30’s and the great depression. Highlighting poverty, loneliness, sexism and more importantly Racism, the main theme of the story.
Being a major issue Racism swarmed America and started taking over most white peoples heads. Black slavery was behind them but unfortunately racism/discrimination towards different races wasn’t and the Jim Crow laws were soon introduced quickly segregating coloured people and making them outcasts in there own countries.
So we were 100 years after slavery, but we were smack bang in the middle of segregation and this, was also not a nice experience for the black race. In a bid to stop the black Americans from being equal, the southern states passed a series of laws known as Jim Crow laws which discriminated against blacks and made sure that they were segregated from whites. Blacks were gradually fired from most jobs and had to use different transport, bathrooms ect. To white people, whites started to rule America.
‘Crooks’ Is a character Steinbeck created to highlight how unfairly this time was and with no real importance to the story crooks has a major importance in the book as he was put there to show us how wrong segregation really was and how lonely and miss treated these people were. We first get an idea of crooks in chapter two where he is first bought up, not being on the scene yet we get a little picture of what he’s like and what his role is. Candy explains how when the boss is in a bad mood it’s always taken out on the stable buck stating “An’ he give the stable buck hell, too'” meaning Crooks, Instantly the first time Crooks is mentioned in the whole book its in a negative way as through innocence he’s treated as if done something wrong. Candy informs George and Lenny why the stable buck gets hell by simply adding on “ya see the stablebucks a nigger” in those days racial slurs such as the language used towards black people wasn’t looked upon as bad but looked upon as normal, they were allowed to say things like that whereas now days you’d get in a lot of trouble as racism isn’t accepted.
Candy goes on to tell them how Crooks isn’t allowed in the bunk house, the small typically western and simple room full of beds were they all sleep. He isn’t allowed in simply because he’s black and segregation prevents him from doing so as its mixing with white people which was frowned upon at the time. He says “they let the nigger in that night” reminiscing one Christmas when Crooks was allowed in the bunk house “smitty took after the nigger, done pretty good too” he tells of how a white man called smitty decided to beat crooks up just for fun and says “the guys wouldn’t let him use his feet” on account of crooks having a crooked back they thought although beating him up for no reason, just entertainment they think its fair because he couldn’t use feet.
But were not getting all negative trades from crooks, candy also says “Nice Fella,too.” “He Reads a lot, got a lot of books in his room” Steinbeck has made crooks intelligent, he’s made it so crooks won the fight against smitty and has made him a ‘nice guy’ because he wanted to avoid the typical stereotype victim of a black man he does so by giving him pride, identity and not showing major weekness. He’s also made him crippled to give him more strength and more of a heroic side. It also means he’s trapped at the ranch as it would be rare for any other place to take him in so already before we meet this character we have a lot of sympathy and respect for him and all he’s going through.
We finally do get to meet him in chapter 3, although it is fairly brief. Crooks pokes his head through the door of the bunkhouse as he isn’t allowed to step into it, knowing he cant step any further he calls slim but instead of saying slim he says “Mr slim”, black people had to formally address white people so crooks was expected to use Mr and Mrs or Ma’am and Sir when approaching a white person, if approaching one at all otherwise he’d get in a lot of trouble and maybe be hung, he was thought to respect white people as if not worthy to them.
We then officially meet Crooks in chapter 4, a whole chapter dedicated to him which in such a short novel with such an unimportant character is very rare but Steinbeck obviously felt very strongly about racism and getting an image across that crooks had an identity and personality, he was just like the rest of them but was hated because of the colour of his skin. Crooks has the longest introduction to his character and where he lives in the book so that we get a vivid description and a chance to get to know him, and that he is a real character with a personality and feelings. Crooks is said to live in “a little shed that leaned off the wall of the barn” , putting crooks in the barn and saying “crooks had an apple box over his bunk, and in it a range of medicine bottles, both for himself and the horses” shows his status is that of an animal, they class him as dirt, lower then the horses. His bed is just a box on hay and blankets as well, which is also Steinbeck creating an image of a man treated like an animal.
Stereotypes would of thought he was a dirty black man but in actual fact crooks is a “proud” and clean man. Being old, crippled and most importantly black crooks has been unable to get himself a girlfriend and being like he is never will, so as a substitute to a female he has “dirty books”.
When Lenny Meets Crooks he doesn’t have a clue about racism, he isn’t racist in any shape or form as he has the mind of a child and doesn’t understand it. He asks “why ain’t you wanted” because he cant see why crooks wouldn’t be allowed in the bunk house which shows racism isn’t natural or in genes or occurs to you as a kid, racism is taught to you by the people you grow up with and by pictures you see in the society. Lenny doesn’t use his white status in his discussion with crooks what so ever and in the conversation crooks actually has the upper hand for once. Crooks says “this here’s my room. Nobody got any right in here but me” and trys to get rid of Lenny, but its not that he doesn’t want the company because he does, that’s what he craves the most but it’s a matter of principle, he has the idea that white people don’t let him in there room, so why should he let them in his room? He’s read up his place in society and he knows his rights, and one of his rights is his room.
Crooks snaps at Lenny saying “I aint no southern nigro” showing he hasn’t accepted the fact that he’s less of a man then Lenny, he knows he’s the same apart from a colour and he has a confidence. He starts patronizing and teasing Lenny to make himself feel better as he see’s someone that’s an easier target then himself to pick of which proves a nasty streak. Upsetting Lenny saying things like “spose George went into town and you never heard of him no more” and “they’ll take you to the booby hatch. They’ll tie you up with a collar, like a dog”.
Crooks didn’t always used to be segregated either, he went to a normal school and had white friends but his dad didn’t approve as he knew it wouldn’t last and they’d grow up and turn on him. “on my old mans chicken ranch” his family owned a chicken ranch so he wasn’t from a poor typical black slave family, showing the great depression could put you in circumstances unlike the ones you grew up in. he says “its just a nigger saying it” recognising nothing he says means anything and he doesn’t have a say because he’s black. In Lenny and Crooks conversation there on completely different wave lengths, speaking on different levels completely. Its easy for crooks to tell his story and to have someone to talk to about his feelings and loneliness because he knows Lenny isn’t taking anything in and wont remember a thing, its just a physical presence to talk to so he isn’t talking to himself.
Crooks only picks on Lenny because of power and status, most his life he’s been teased and tortured and the boss gives him such hell so he’s finally found someone he can tease and torture back. We get an insight of crooks loneliness and understand how much its really getting to him so we forgive him for the teasing because we know Lenny’s situation is no were near as bad as Crooks, crooks has no one but Lenny has always had George, Crooks expresses this crying “you know he’s going to come back, spose you didn’t have nobody, spose you couldn’t go into the bunk house and play rummy because your black” he obviously is so desperately lonely, he wants someone to talk to more then anything and its made even worse as he hasn’t always been like this.
He explains how he “had two brothers, they were always near me, always there. Used to sleep in the same room” so he was used to having his brothers around, sharing a room and having someone to talk to all the time. He’s been separated from family and friends for a lifetime alone and with social levels rock bottom stifling loneliness Is putting him in a mental state and he’s trying to put Lenny in his shoes. Crooks seems very cynical and sceptical about Lennys dream and has given up all hope in religion saying “nobody ever gets to heaven” he doesn’t believe a god would put him through this.
Crooks also defends himself saying “you say I smell, well you all smell to me” he most probably doesn’t really thing white people ‘smell’ it’s just a matter of if you can say it to me, I can say it to you. It’s almost childish, you smell, no you do! Then Candy comes onto the scene and joins Crooks and Lenny. Crooks is happy to have all this sudden company, something he’d dreamed of happening and is more then pleased to have people in the barn with him not that he’d let that on.
Candy says “I been here a long time, an crooks been here a long time. This is the first time I’ve been in this room” he’s proving the real depth of segregation as they’ve both been there years and years but they have never seen each other’s rooms but segregation like this was normal. Crooks proves just how lonely he is when he offers to give up all freedom and pay to work for nothing and become almost a slave for George, Lenny and Candy and in return, just some company hesitatingly saying “if you…guys would want a hand to work for nothing-just his keep, why I’d come an lend a hand.”.
Then it’s all unsettled by Curley’s wife’s appearance. She’s nearly as lonely as crooks, not allowed to talk to anyone but her husband who she doesn’t feel for at all. He leaves her alone to go to the whore house and she’s expected to talk to nobody. She’s hurt and looking for some company, just someone to talk to. She expresses her loneliness saying “what am I doing? Talking to a bunch of bindle stiffs- a nigger an a dum-dum and a lousy ol sheep and im liking it” although she’s insulting them she’s just as desperate for some company and wants them to talk to her, but they have other ideas. They have it drummed into there heads she’s trouble and Crook’s especially knows he shouldn’t be talking to her. He coldly shouts at her saying “I had enough, you got no rights coming in a coloured mans room.
You got no rights messing around in here at all. Now you just get out an get out quick. If you don’t, im gonna ask the boss not to ever let you come in the barn no more” crook’s overstepped the mark in the society he lives in. he can’t in reality boss around a white woman. He hasn’t said anything unreasonable, he knows his rights but he’s threatening her giving himself a level of authority. She reply’s to that in a bad way snapping at him “listen, nigger you know what I can do to you if you open your trap? You know what I could do?” he realises he’s overdone it and returns to his normal lonely self responding with a simple “yes ma’am” and ‘sits down on his bunk drawing into himself’.
After having Candy and Lenny in the room and being able to have normal conversations leaving out any racism he’s almost forgotten himself and segregation, the time he had with the other two was more like a bit of fantasy not reality. He thought for a minute he could have an equal friendship but then Curley’s wife comes and snaps him out of it and reminds him of his place and status. What he did was paralyse his childhood when he played with white kids, he just fooled himself into thinking they were maybe his friends but after the argument he soon realises that this would never happen, he would never be accepted so after she leaves he changes. He turns cold on the other two again and withdraws his offer to work for company although he’d still love to do it, he thinks it’s just a far away dream as black people will never have equal friendships with white people.
Curley’s wife has proved she’s racist but she’s not alone in that, she threatened to have him hung. All she’d of had to do was run back to the ranch and tell the boss or Curley he touched her and he’d be killed without trial, just as a form of revenge. Crook’s would just have to be accused by a white person and there authority would get him killed, that was the reality of being a black man, that was the reality of crook’s situation.
Taking the racism and unfairness of segregation in the 1930’s Steinbeck has successfully created this character of a black man, trapped in his crippled body, desperately lonely and abused but given him an identity, a personality, a proper background and family and made him a real person. He’s highlighted how badly they were treated, how they felt, what they went through and what we cant let happen again in the future.
Crooks wasn’t a part of the story as such but he was there to represent what it was like at the time and the seriousness of the horrors of racism that went on and he’s done that outstandingly giving a perfect picture and make us as an audience feel for the character of Crooks and actually think about what went on back then and to help ensure segregation will never return.