WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE ABOUT STEINBECK’S PORTRAYAL OF CROOKS?
Steinbeck has described certain characters and included many intelligent literary devices in his novel ‘Of Mice and Men’ that amplifies the storyline and makes everything more deep and drastic. An example is Crooks; Steinbeck’s portrayal infers racism throughout the whole novel. Although it’s not his main focus, Steinbeck does make it clear that racism is very much present in the novel. ‘Crooks’ is the only black man in the novel and Steinbeck doesn’t even give him a name.
Firstly, the separation of Crooks and the other main characters in the storyline shows to the reader how there is a virtual and physical barrier between the two races. Crooks has his own room, and he never enters the main room in the barn where the white men sleep and play games. Also, Steinbeck doesn’t even give the black man a name; however he is known as ‘Crooks’ because of his crooked back. We are not told how is injury occurred, but we can assume this was no accident by looking at people’s attitude towards black people in the early twentieth century. It is most likely that he was beaten by the ranch owner just because he was black, or for another unjust reason.
Steinbeck describes his face as having “a face full of deep black wrinkles” and “having pain-tightened lips”. From this, we can see that Crooks has endured a lot during his life. When we compare Crooks to the other white workers at the ranch, we can see that Crooks has more morals and a stronger personality. For example, when Candy’s dog is shot by Carlson, Candy expresses deep sadness for he turns to the wall and doesn’t speak for the rest of the evening. We can contrast this to when Crooks is called a nigger, a negro, and the stable buck cripple.
He is abused, and his whole time being quarantined in his room – Crooks feels pain, however he doesn’t show it. Until he talks to Lennie. The next thing that is significant in Steinbeck’s portrayal of Crooks is that even though Crooks is black and would have received very little education; he has educated himself by reading books. However, the white men who would have received a better education read Western magazines instead. While conversing with Lennie, Crooks goes on to mention that “I ain’t a Southern Negro,” – because he is not a Southern Negro this means he was not born into slavery, Crooks is saying that he was born a free man and inferring that he is equal to Lennie.
Furthermore, black and white rights are also significant because when Crooks is talking with Lennie he uses the language of white law to protect his own space. He is prickly with Lennie, “You got no right to come in my room. This here’s my room. Nobody got any right in here but me.” We are interested in the language of ‘right’. We can link Crooks’ irrational response; “They say I stink. Well, I tell you, you all stink to me.” to Jim Crow’s Laws. Jim Crow’s laws were an extremely unpleasant way of dividing the races. For example, one law regarding toilets was “Every employer of white or negro males shall provide for such white or negro males reasonably accessible and separate toilet facilities.” Crooks is very fed up of the abuse he received and is returning the ‘favour’ to Lennie even though Lennie does not understand what Crooks is saying.
We can tell that Crooks is a smart man; he picks Lennie as a target for his abuse because Lennie won’t take any offence. While Crooks is being harsh to Lennie; “Crooks’ face lighted with pleasure in his torture.” – we can see that Steinbeck has embedded racism into the novel. This is significant because Crooks is only doing what others do to him; he receives continual humiliation and has learnt to bully others. Crooks is being deliberately cruel to Lennie and finds pleasure in it. We can tell that an abundance of racism must be present in Crooks’ environment because he is a smart man who used to be part of a large family. He would never be horrible to Lennie without something that has changed him. Racism.
The last thing that is significant in Steinbeck’s portrayal of Crooks is that he states how may times he has seen men wonder through the ranch looking for pay and wanting a modest version of the American Dream. Furthermore, in the novel we can see how much loneliness can affect someone. Crooks tells Lennie how lucky he is; “It’s just bein’ with another guy.” It is important to not be lonely especially if you are pursuing the American Dream. We can see this throughout the novel because Lennie keeps George motivated and Lennie is
driving the dream all the way through the story. Steinbeck is inferring how common it is for men just like Lennie and George to be following the American Dream. Everyone is equal.