Of Mice and Men’ by John Steinbeck
In the novel ‘ Of mice and men’ John Steinbeck uses the character Crooks to represent racism across America and symbolise the marginalisation of the black community at the time the novel is set. From the beginning Steinbeck skillfully uses Crooks as a tool to give the reader an insight to the reality of the American Dream and what 1930’s America was like. The reader has to decide whether Crooks deserves sympathy, or is just a bitter, cruel ‘stable-buck’.
Steinbeck presents Crooks as a victim of racism throughout the entire book, Firstly Crooks is the only black man on the ranch illustrating that he is an outcast. We first here of Crooks when Candy refers to him as a ‘nigger’, although acceptable at the time the word dehumanises Crooks and shows the lack of respect he receives from other members on the ranch. Ostracised by the white members on the ranch, Crooks resents it As he says ‘ If I say something, why it’s just a nigger sayin’ it’ this depicts Crooks as someone that has turned to self- pity and the notion that he is a lesser human than his white counterparts. He says to Lennie ‘I ain’t wanted in the bunk house and you ain’t wanted in my room’ he carries on saying ‘they say I stink’ which can be interpreted that the white members on the ranch would find it appalling if a ‘nigger’ would breathe the same air in the bunkhouse as them.
The ambiance of Crook’s room reflects a lot on his personality. A lot of the objects in his ‘little shed’ were described as ‘broken’, this echoes onto Crook’s personality by the fact he is ‘broken’ in himself and is shunned by the other ranch members. Despite the fact Crooks picked up his name because of his ‘crooked back’ Steinbeck cleverly links this into the title of the book. ‘Of mice and man’ compares a man to the same level to mice. Crooks back injury is due to a horse kicking him in the back, this indicates that Steinbeck is trying to express that even an animal is worth more than him.
Crooks brings into perspective the loneliness experienced by all the characters in “Of Mice and Men” by saying (p. 77) “Sure, you could play horseshoes till it got dark, but then you got to read books. Books ain’t no good. A guy needs someone – to be near him. A guys goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody. Don’t make no difference who the guy is, long’s he’s with you. I tell ya, a guy gets too lonely, an’ he gets sick.” He is telling of the need for human interaction, the need for company and the need for someone to care and provide security. The oppression Crooks experiences in living in a barn and not in the bunkhouse where he could play rummy as one of the group leads him to this desperate plea to be realised as equal. Just because when he cuts himself, the blood he bleeds is looked upon as different from a white perspective, this does not mean he is not entitled to benefit from human nature. John Steinbeck is portraying here the feelings of Americans of his day and age: their aloneness and their salvation – in the American Dream.
It becomes apparent that the treatment of Crooks has made him cynical. Whenever the American Dream (i.e. the hope of all ranchers that one day they will have independence, land for themselves and be answerable to no-one) is mentioned he dismisses it. He says scornfully (p. 78) “I seen hundreds of men come by on the road an’ on the ranches with their bindles on their backs an’ that same damn thing in their heads. Hundreds of them. They come, an’ they quit an’ go on……An’ never a god-damn one of ’em gets it.” This stark realism gives us an impression that Crooks has absolutely no hope. However (p. 77) “I remember when I was a little kid….had a strawberry patch. Had an alfalfa patch….Used to turn the chickens out on the alfalfa on a sunny morning” reinforces the idea that everyone has a dream, a goal and a fantasy. Crooks may be pessimistic, yet even he, the marginalised, fearful, gruff, resentful, alone “nigger”, has a dream, the hope of one day experiencing the joys of his childhood again.
Should we interpret Crooks as a cynical, evil, unimportant person? After all, he’s only an “nigger”. Yet one can fell sympathy for this ostracised man who, under his rough exterior, has humanity and all its qualities. Crooks gives us the most vivid picture of life at the time of the novel: its hopes, fears and injustices. And does Crooks also relate to life today? Are we any happier at having houses, independence, freedom of speech? Do you have to be black to experience oppression?
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