Of Mice and Men How Has Segregation Affected Crooks?
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‘Of Mice and Men’ by John Steinbeck was written during the Great Depression in America in the 1930’s. During the Great Depression there was a great job loss which resulted in men becoming migrant works. This was particularly hard for black Americans because back then discrimination against black people wasn’t abolished yet; they were segregated from the white people which meant they couldn’t find work. They were treated very poorly and were considered one level up from animals. Steinbeck had a good knowledge of the life people were living back then because he had the experience of living and working at a ranch in Salinas where his story is based. The story begins by describing the scenery in a lot of detail; he describes it in such a way that some people have compared it to the Garden of Eden in the bible. It then goes on to introduce the two main characters, George and Lennie by a river. At the end of the story it ends with George and Lennie back where they started, by the river.
The structure of this is a cycle; it goes back to the beginning. Steinbeck may have chosen to have a circular plot to show that no circle has an ending, in a way the plot is like a representation to show the dead end existence of the Great Depression. One of the main themes of Mice and Men is loneliness. Steinbeck shows that you don’t necessarily have to be on your own to feel lonely; there are many reasons why most people felt lonely during the depression. The main reasons were because of discrimination which Steinbeck shows through Crooks, another reason was prejudice which he shows through Curley’s wife. Also, most migrant workers worked alone, but the fact that George and Lennie worked together confused the other characters on the ranch. Candy and Curley’s wife experience loneliness through prejudice. Because of Candy’s physical disability of only having one hand, also because of his old which has made him an outcast and hardly any use to the ranch. Candy knows that one day he will be no use to the ranch and that he will have nowhere to go.
But when he hears of George and Lennie’s dream of living in a little place of their own he is desperate to be part of it. He bribes them by offering to pay half the money that it will cost, he then goes on to say the things he could do ‘I could cook and tend the chickens and hoe the garden some’’ another bribery to try and make himself look useful. Candy may be doing this not only because he wants somewhere to live but because he’s lost his dog which was his only company, so now he is trying to become part of George and Lennie’s friendship which money cannot buy. Candy had a dog that was only known as ‘Candy’s dog’ like Curley’s wife; his dog didn’t have an actual name and is only known as ‘Candy’s dog.’ His dog was his only friend, the only one that kept him company and from being lonely. Candy has had his dog for a long time ‘I had him from a pup’ this shows that he may of grown a bond with it because he’s had it for so long. So for Carlson to shoot his dog must of made him realise that he has no one now that his dog’s been shot.
You could compare Candy’s relationship with his dog to George and Lennie’s relationship because they are both had close friendships, but Candy could never actually communicate with his dog like George can’t have a proper conversation with Lennie. Also, the dog and Lennie both end up being shot behind the head. Curley’s wife is lonely because back in the 1930’s men were considered to be superior to women, women were thought of as weak and useless whereas the men were thought to be as strong and powerful. Her husband Curley is overprotective of her but doesn’t talk to her either. The workers on the ranch don’t talk to Curley’s wife because they are scared of what Curley may say or do for the simple fact that she is Curley’s wife. Because of this, she goes looking for Curley ‘I’m lookin’ for Curley’ she uses this as an excuse to talk to the other workers because she is that desperate for company and someone to talk to. Also the fact that she does not have a real name and no one even bothers asking what her name is, she is only referred to as ‘Curley’s wife’ shows that she is unimportant.
The way that she dresses and the way she presents herself is another example of how lonely she is. In the book she is described as ‘full, rouged lips and wide-spaced eyes, heavily made up. Her fingernails were red. Her hair hung in little rolled clusters, like sausages. She wore a cotton house dress and red mules, on the insteps of which were little bouquets of red ostrich feathers’ Steinbeck has described her with a lot of the colour red. When people think of the colour red the feelings that they would usually associate it with are anger, love, and danger. You could link Curley’s wife to Lennie grabbing the woman’s dress in the beginning because the women’s dress that he grabbed was coincidentally the colour red as well. Also the colour of the traffic lights, red means stop. She is described as heavily made up the way she does her makeup. She may have done her makeup the way she has and wore a lot of red because she is desperate for attention from the workers or her husband. But when Lennie finds her ‘purty’ she takes an interest in him because someone has finally shown some sort of interest in her unlike the other men. She then attempts talking to Lennie several times which soon ended in tragedy.
Crooks is the only black man on the ranch, this could link with Curley’s wife because she was the only woman on the ranch. Like Candy and Curley’s wife, Crooks suffers loneliness through discrimination because of his skin colour. This makes him as lonely as Candy and Curley’s wife, maybe even lonelier because of segregation. They believed that black and white people should be separated therefore no one spoke to Crooks unless they had to. Steinbeck has written in a lot of detail describing Crook’s bedroom, he may have done this because a bedroom can say a lot about someone, for example ‘a tattered dictionary and a mauled copy of the California civil code for 1905. There were battered magazines and a few dirty books on a special shelf over his bunk’ just from reading that we have learnt that Crooks likes to read. Also, mentioning the dictionary could suggest that Crooks is clever and the California civil code could suggest that he knows what his rights as a black person. We find out more about Crooks when Lennie goes to Crook’s room, ‘’Cause I’m black.
They play cards in there, but I can’t play because I’m black. They say I stink. Well, I tell you, you all of you stink to me.’’ This shows that he is being rejected from the other workers because of skin colour, not because he has done anything wrong but simply because of his skins colour. Because of the rejection which Crooks finds unfair, he acts the way he does towards the white people. Like when Lennie walks into his bedroom and the first thing he says to him is ‘’You got no right to come in my room. This here’s my room. Nobody got any right in here but me’’ and ‘’I ain’t wanted in the bunk house, and you ain’t wanted in my room.’’ But Lennie, who is naive and oblivious to what is happening around him, he doesn’t understand why Crooks is being bitter towards him and doesn’t want him in his room. Even though Crooks tries to keep up his anger at Lennie for coming into his room, he eventually gives in because he realises he has company and that someone actually wants to talk to him for once and lets him stay.
Crooks becomes fascinated with Lennie’s friendship with George, something that nor he or any of the workers have. Fascinated, Crooks starts question Lennie. ‘‘S’Pose George don’t come back no more. S’Pose he took a powder and just ain’t coming back. What’ll you do then?’’ In a way, some readers may find that Crooks is taunting him by saying this, because Crooks knows that Lennie has a mental disability and can’t communicate well to others. But Crooks may be questioning his and George’s friendship because he is curious to know what it would feel to lose a friend because he doesn’t have friends himself. Another reason he may be asking about their friendship is because he is jealous of what they have, Crooks may even be enjoying the fact that he is winding him up to relieve his pain of being lonely. When Crooks hears of Candy’s dream of having their own land with George and Lennie he reacts to it ‘You guys is just kiddin’ yourself. You’ll talk about it a hell of a lot, but you won’t get no land. You’ll be a swamper here till they take you out in a box. Hell, I seen too many guys.
Lennie here’ll quit an’ be on the road in two, three weeks. Seems like ever’ guy land in his head’ another example to show of Crook’s bitterness towards white people, he crushed their dream just like that. Although the other workers are lonely too, they are not as lonely as Crooks is. Even though they travel for work and are usually on their own they are not segregated from the other workers, they can talk to the others and play cards with them whereas Crooks can’t. Before we are introduced to Crooks, we learn that the other’s treat him unfair ‘Sure. Ya see the stable buck’s a nigger’ and ‘yeah. Nice fella too. Got a crooked back where a horse kicked him. The boss gives him hell when he’s made.’ From reading this we instantly learn that Crooks is a black man who gets treated unfairly, and that the boss takes his anger out on him because he can. Also we learn that he has a crooked back, this may be the reason why he got his nick name ‘Crooks’. Every person has a name, so for them to nick name him Crooks shows how unfair he is treated for them not to even call him by his real name.
Overall segregation has affected Crooks in a negative way; it has turned him into a sad lonely man who finds comfort from reading his books. Although it may not seem obvious, but Crooks had an American Dream like the rest of the workers, his dream was simple; to be recognised as a human person, that his skin colour shouldn’t matter. When Steinbeck talks about Crooks, instead of calling him a ‘nigger’ like the rest of the workers do, Steinbeck writes ‘a lean negro head’ by using the word ‘negro’ Steinbeck is showing how he feels towards racism, he is showing respect to Crooks. Some readers may find the book offensive because Steinbeck uses the word ‘nigger’ when the characters are speaking. In parts of America, teachers have refused to teach ‘Of Mice and Men’ because they find it that offensive. But Steinbeck may not have intended for his novel to offend readers, but to show readers what racism was like in America, to show reader’s what was wrong in the world at the time.