Prejudice in “Of Mice and Men”
“Prejudices are the chains forged by ignorance to keep men apart.” – Marguerite Gardiner. In society, both modern and in the past, prejudice has been a tool of thinking and labeling a group of race, people, class and culture in order to distinguish ones superiority and dominance from one another, but is simply a way to judge without gathering valid facts. In Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, we see that prejudice was just as rampant in the 1930’s. In the novel, prejudice is demonstrated on 3 different levels: racial, sexual and social.
It is shown how these prejudices generate false perceptions that although meant to aid, do no such good as their end result is clouding the truth.
Racial prejudice is most significant when describing Crooks, who happens to be the stable buck for the farm. Crooks is also a Black man with a back disability, hence the reason he is called “Crooks”. While most of the other workers live in the same area and attend to jobs that are quite similar, Crooks is forced to live by himself, work alone in the stables and is almost never in contact with any of the other characters.
People such as Curly’s Wife go as far as to ridicule Crooks and even look down at him simply for the fact that he is a Black man with a disability who is a laborer. In one instance, Curly’s Wife threatens Crooks by telling him “Listen, Nigger, you know what I can do if you open your trap, I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t funny” (Steinbeck, 98).
The open brutality of this comment shows that even a woman, who would normally not have much or any say during this time in the 1930’s, is still considered higher in social class than an African-American man. Nothing is known about him as a person by any of the other farm attendants, but the prejudices that in this case are completely false help propel a gap between them, when one does not need to be. Although he may be physically handicap, he is just as capable as any of the others. As a result of being an outcast at the farm, Crooks has become very isolated and disengaged with the other members.
When Lennie enters Crooks cabin in order retrieve the puppies, Crooks lashes out and tells Lennie “I ain’t wanted in the bunk room and you ain’t wanted in my room” (Steinbeck,124). This comment shows that Crooks has become bitter and alone because of the prejudice constantly being aimed at him when there is no reason for the way he is treated. He is a great overall example of racial prejudice in Of Mice and Men and society, both past and present, in which a African-American male, who is as capable as any man of another color is denied the same opportunities because of stereotypes and perceptions which can only be supported with biased false facts.
Sexual prejudice is strong when Curly’s Wife is a part of a scene. Curly’s Wife also happens to be the only female that is currently occupying the place of work that the novel is set in. Curly’s Wife is presented as a character who tends to be very friendly with all the men on the farm and enjoys the attention she gets because her husband, Curly does not give her the amount of attention that she wants, so she finds it with others. Curly’s Wife is often avoided by all other who work at the farm because she is a woman who could get them in a lot of trouble. Curly is the boss’ son and Curly’s Wife being the daughter-in-law always gets her way and can have any man in the farm fired without reason. “She got the eye goin’ all the time on everybody. I bet she even gives the stable buck they eye. I don’t know what the hell she wants” (Steinbeck,51).
Being a woman, there is already significant amount of sexual prejudice directed to her and the fact that she is very flirtatious with the other men further strengthens their perception of her. They all try to remain as calm as possible, careful not to give her the wrong idea cause they know the trouble that she could get them in. In actuality it appears that Curly’s Wife only craves attention from the other men and nothing sexual because of the lack of her husband to give her the attention that she wants. The idea of her wanting something only sexual and not spiritual shows the prejudice associated with gender in this novel and how its falsehood prevents a lonely woman from engaging and connecting with others on a mental level.
Equally important is the Social prejudice towards characters such as Candy and Lennie in Of Mice and Men. Candy is very old and not capable of doing much around the farm but is still kept around to do the simple chores that the others are seen as more of a waste of time for others. These simple chores are envied by others and this jealousy helps create a division between Candy and the others. Candy also has a dog that in many ways is similar to him “[The] dog ain’t no good to himself. I wisht somebody’d shoot me if I got old an’ a cripple (pg. 45).” They are both described as being old, withered, confused and in many ways more of a nuisance who would do more good dead than alive. Socially being hated by the majority of the men at the ranch shows the prejudice that is directed without any reason, but simply motivated by jealousy.
In the instance of Lennie, social prejudice is strongest evident in the perception others have of him because in their eyes, all they see is a big oaf incapable of accomplishing anything intelligent and only kept around for his strength. Before meeting Lennie and even engaging him in conversation, his position has already been established at the Ranch. With Curly we see that “[He’s] like a lot of little guys. He hates big guys. He’s alla time picking scraps with big guys. Kind of like he’s mad at ’em because he ain’t a big guy” (pg. 26). Regardless of his ability to be of help at the farm, Curly already establishes his position on Lennie even though he has had no significant direct contact or enough time to accurately depict Lennie as a person and not just a big man physically.
Not only Curly, but other members of the farm also have decided Lennie’s place at work before fully knowing him. He is left out of card games, left back at the ranch when George and the others go out to hand more important jobs. Being considered a simple minded men with little use who spend their days playing with and day dreaming about rabbits or sweeping after others, Lennie and Candy have become outcasts in the sense that one of them is perceived to be mentally unstable and added to the fact that he is physically strong, while the other one is a nuisance who many could live without, make them both isolated and all the more reason to be avoid and singled out.
“Of Mice and Men” is a brilliant novel in demonstrating that prejudice is a tool that people use to become more familiar with other individuals in order to overcome the fear of uncertainty. However, the ending result is that it puts distance between the person and the one they judge because it is not fact, but perception that is completely untrue. Prejudice is simply the reasoning of a fool to make themselves feel secure.
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