|Joel Aroeste, Kevin Craig West, David Bunce; photo: Joe Schuyler/Schuyler Photography|
This page aims to provide more than just a summary profile of Crooks; it is a study and analysis of Steinbeck’s use of form, structure and language – as well as the novel’s cultural and historical contexts. The analysis should be a useful basis for an essay on how Steinbeck presents the character. I recommend looking up the quotes and examples in the text because that will enhance your understanding of their significance and enable you to develop your own response. The page numbers for the quotes refer to the pocket Penguin 2006 edition of ’Of Mice and Men’
Crooks is an important character: he is the novel’s outsider – far more so than the new arrivals, George and Lennie – and his life is separate from the other ranch-hands. His bed, a ‘long box’ has the chilling association with a coffin and he sleeps on straw, as the animals do. His ‘crooked back’ (22) is a physical symbol of his personal and social impediment – as well as being the literal result of dangerous working conditions. He is isolated by his colour, being the only non-white person. Because he is, to quote from the novel, ‘a stable buck and a cripple,’ he has become ‘more permanent than the other men’ (75); one suspects the reason for this is that finding another job would be so difficult that he stays put. Knowing that Lennie ‘don’t understand nothing’ (80), Crooks confides in him and it is through this narrative device that we discover that ‘there ain’t a coloured man on this ranch an’ there’s jus’ one family in Soledad’ (80). Crooks also represents the negro in his 1930s racial oppression: through dramatic irony, Steinbeck shows the reader Crooks’ bitterness and resentment, which Lennie does not notice, when he says ‘If I say something, why it’s just a nigger saying it.’ (80); this disregard is so matter-of-fact that, when Candy says earlier, ‘The boss gives him hell when he’s mad’ (22), George expresses no surprise at the injustice. Whilst Crooks himself refers to himself as ‘black’, endemic racist attitudes are seen in the repeated everyday use of the word ‘nigger’ (22) and it remains unclear whether the view that he stinks, is a racist insult or due to the smell of the liniment, which he uses to relive his back pain. In any case, his colour is the cause of his exclusion from the bunkhouse and even when he is allowed in at Christmas, it is at the cost of having to fight one of the ranch-hands. The reader can understand the reason for Crooks’ revengeful ‘private victory’ and ‘pleasure in his torture’ (81) of Lennie.
Candy, as intradiegetic narrator, is the means of introducing us to Crooks; he includes the information that Crooks ‘reads a lot. Got books in his room.’ (22), and Crooks himself later puts this observation into a surprising perspective when he explains, ‘Books ain’t no good. A guy needs somebody – to be near him.’ (82); Steinbeck writes that Crooks ‘whined’ about this but he clearly expresses the man’s loneliness later when Crooks ‘gently’ explains how confused a man can become when he has no human companionship: if a man ‘got nothing to tell him what’s so an’ what ain’t so’ and ‘he can’t turn to some other guy and ast him …He got nothing to measure by’ (82/83). This is why, when Candy comes to Crooks’ room, the reader understands why ‘it was difficult for Crooks to conceal his pleasure with anger’ (84), despite his morose mood when saying that ‘Guys don’t come into a coloured man’s room very much.’ (85). This is a sensitive portrayal of a lonely man.
Crooks has a world-weary cynical nature. When he first hears of Lennie’s version of The American Dream, he is far too aware of the harsh realities of The Depression to be swept away by idle imaginings and he ‘interrupts brutally’ (85) when Candy and Lennie are talking about making rabbits pay. (The rabbit motif, a central thread of the novel, will be discussed on pages devoted to themes and dreams.) He declares:
I seen hundreds of men come by on the road an’ on the ranches…an’ that same damn thing in their heads … a little piece of lan’ … never a goddam one of ’em ever gets it (85)
‘‘Member what I said about hoein’ an’ doin’ odd jobs? I didn’t mean it. Jus’ foolin’. I wouldn’ want to go to no place like that.’
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