How does Steinbeck present the character of Crooks?
In the novel “Of Mice and Men”, the character of Crooks is used by John Steinbeck, the author, to symbolise the downgrading of the black community occurring at the time in which the novel was set. Crooks is also significant as he provides an insight into the reality of the American Dream and the feelings of the people in the ranch; their loneliness and need for company. Steinbeck presents Crooks as a victim of racism and throughout the book, he is called by the name ‘nigger’. Being black, Crooks is hated on the ranch.“Ya see, the stable buck’s a nigger”. The use of this word dehumanises Crooks and shows how black people at the time, had no rights at all. He also says, “If I say something, why it’s just a nigger sayin’ it” and this shows his anger about being brutalised. However, another quote shows how threatened violence is used against black people and how the same term ‘nigger’ is repeated throughout the book. “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 even funny”. Curley’s wife takes advantage of Crooks having a go at her and threatens Crooks into getting lynched. Lynching was very common in the 1930’s and Crooks ‘seemed to grow smaller’. The use of this oxymoron emphasises how he tries to fight back yet Curley’s wife’s social status was better than Crooks’ mainly because of his race. Furthermore, Curley’s wife uses the word ‘nigger’ and it also dehumanises Crooks and puts him ‘in his right place’. Curley’s wife is also near the bottom of the social ladder as well as Crooks worldly
Despite the fact that Crooks is a victim of racism, Steinbeck presents Crooks as a dignified human being. At first glance, this is not obvious as Crooks sleeps in what is described as ‘a long box filled with straw’. This quote shows how he is presented as an animal because black people at that time, were treated as slaves. Not only does Steinbeck give him a life and a voice, but he tries to show Crook’s life in the book with how black people were treated in real life. Steinbeck also tries not to represent Crooks as ‘just a slave’. Steinbeck tries to defend Crooks by writing about how he stood up for his rights against Curley’s wife when she entered his private space, “I had enough (...) you got no rights comin’ in a coloured man’s room. You got no rights messing around in here at all.” This quote shows how Curley’s wife tries to use her superior social status against Crooks as well as dehumanising him. Another quote shows how not only does he care about himself and how he treats himself, but he also cares for the horses and the other animals in the barn. “Crooks has his apple box over his bunk, and in it a range of medicine bottles, both for himself and for the horses”. It also shows that he is well organised and that he cares for the animals like he cares for himself. He also takes pride in what he does. Another quote shows how even though he knows he has rights, they are still worth nothing, “And he had books too; a tattered dictionary and a mauled copy of the California Civil Code for 1900’s”. This quote also shows that he is worried about his education and that he is intelligent even though others on the ranch thought that black people aren’t clever. The books must have been used a lot and so he knows the rights that he should have. Therefore, Crooks is presented as a dignified human being despite the fact that he is disregarded and mistreated by others on the ranch. Although Crooks is a dignified human being, Steinbeck also presents him as a cruel and unpleasant man at times. This is shown most obviously when Lennie attempts to make friends with him in part four of the novel. At first, when Lennie tries to enter his room, Crooks says, “you got no rights to come in my room. This here’s my room”, and he becomes very defensive. The fact that he repeats the phrase ‘my room’ shows he is feeling vulnerable....
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