Bearing in mind the social, cultural and historical content how does John Steinbeck portray the black American in his novel ‘of mice and men’? John Steinbeck’s novel ‘of mice and men’ was published in 1937. This was in the middle of the Great Depression. When the novel was written in the 1930’s America was a deeply racist society, despite the fact that slavery had been abolished in 1864 at the end of the civil war. Steinbeck uses Crooks (the black stable buck) to expose racist attitudes and protest against the injustice shown towards black people.
Steinbeck puts across the message that racism towards Crooks is both mindless and deeply ingrained in American society, because of the way he has scripted Candy saying the word ‘nigger’ to Crooks or calling him a ‘nigger’ so casually even though he likes Crooks. ‘Nigger’ is a nasty strong word that could shock or insult black people. Remember the Christmas party where the white Americans ‘let’ Crooks in to the party. ‘Let’ is a very patronising word it’s basically saying that Crooks is only in the party because they said he could come in as a treat, but the real reason was that they wanted someone to have a fight with Crooks and beat him up.
Why should Crooks be treated different? And why is he only allowed in the party because they said so? Steinbeck presents Crooks in a positive light. This suggests that it doesn’t matter if Crooks is black; he is still just a normal human being. Steinbeck also presents Crooks as a nice man on the outside, but when he gets a chance to take advantage of others he will. This is supported by the scene when crooks tells Lennie that George could be hurt and might not come back from town, this got Lennie really nervous and scared.
Reading more into the chapter, we realise that Crooks is like this because of his past, the way he was brought up and where about he was born. Lennie is polite to Crooks even though some people on the ranch are not so polite to Crooks. Lennie talks to Crooks as if he is just the same as everyone else but the others don’t because he is a ‘nigger’ as they would put it. Candy was also quite polite when he entered Crooks room, submissive even as he cautiously enters. Lennie would not have even gone into Crooks’ room if he didn’t want to see the puppies. Crooks loneliness is awkwardly expressed on page 72.
“a guy needs somebody to be near him… a guy goes nuts if he aint got nobody, don’t make no difference who the guy is, long’s he’s with you. I tell ya a guy gets lonely and gets sick”. Crooks was saying this to Lennie trying to get the message across that he needs someone to be there for him to be with and to talk to. His loneliness is also proved by having lots of books and magazines. At first, Crooks looks like a nasty character not letting Lennie in, but reading more into the chapter, we realise that Crooks is like this because of the way he has been brought up not to like white people.
Another reason why he could of turned Lennie away the way he did is, maybe he thought that Lennie was going to give him a bit of stick and humiliate him like some of the other people on the ranch do. However after talking to Lennie and getting to know him, Crooks can see that Lennie isn’t like the others, he cares more about other people. Crooks grew up with his Dad in California. His Dad owned a chicken farm, so Crooks has lived on a ranch his whole life. When Crooks was a child he used to hang around with white kids even though he was black. White people and black people were segregated and didn’t used to play or hang around together.
Crooks’ Dad stopped him playing with white kids because he knew in the long term; Crooks would be rejected by white people and wouldn’t understand why. We know that Crooks is lonely, because no one really talks to him and when they do, they aren’t usually nice to him, and they are rude and mostly racist. Also the fact that he has so many books and magazines suggests that he has nothing else to do. He sleeps in with the animals because he ‘smells’. He isn’t allowed to talk or interact with the others on the ranch. Lennie is also lonely because he is different and new and he only really knows George.
Curley’s wife is another one who is lonely because Curley doesn’t let her interact with the other men on the ranch because he doesn’t trust her. Even though the reader may sympathise with Curley’s wife, she says something shocking to Crooks. “Well, you keep your place then nigger I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it aint even funny”. Before she said this Curley’s wife seemed a nice person to me, but after coming out with something like that, my whole opinion of her has changed. Candy did try to stick up for Crooks, but was instantly silenced by Curley’s wife as she was vicious once again by saying. “…
nobody’d listen to you, an’ you no it. Nobody’d listen to you”. She says this because its true nobody would listen to him because they don’t want to listen about a black person and they wouldn’t even care if he was getting bullied. Steinbeck seems to have included this as a harsh reflection of white American society. Crooks tells Candy he does not want to be on the farm, because he may feel isolated as the other man are all white. He is also annoyed with them for intruding on his life as he is a very private man. The reality is that Crooks will never realise the American Dream because he is a black man living in a segregated society.
Crooks is trapped in a really difficult situation because a black man at this time will never be able to live his own life and be free. Steinbeck created Crooks to show the plight of black people in 1930’s America. I think Steinbeck conveys the character of Crooks very well because it helps the reader to understand the segregation on American ranches at this time. Show preview only The above preview is unformatted text This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE John Steinbeck section.