Write about the ways in which Steinbeck presents either Crooks or Curley’s wife. To what extent does he create sympathy for either of these characters?
Of Mice and Men is set in 1930’s America in the middle of the economic depression. It is geared towards the pursuit of the American dream, promoting the ideas of equality, life, liberty and happiness. Steinbeck uses Crooks, and to some extent Curley’s wife to challenge the perception of equality and sometimes the language used is, by modern standards, racist and misogynistic. There is an irony in the fact that the people judging Crooks are less intelligent than he is and they refuse to look at anything other than the stereotype of his ethnicity. Steinbeck reveals as much about Crooks in the things he does not express as in the things he does.
The first reference to Crooks, is Curley’s wife calling him in a highly derogatory manner ‘Stable Buck- ooh sta-able Buck!’ (Steinbeck, 1937, p30). This is a left over from the time when black male slaves were referred to as ‘Bucks’. As this is after the American War of Independence, it is clear that Curley’s wife views him as a slave and therefore, beneath her. The concept of equality does not exist in her treatment of Crooks. She follows this with what would be considered today as a very offensive, racist term. Steinbeck uses this deliberately to evoke sympathy for Crooks, a man so low down in the hierarchy, he does not even have his own name. He is de-personalised and is addressed in abusive terms.
Crooks first appearance is when he opens the door quietly and Steinbeck describes him as ‘lined with pain’ (Steinbeck, 1937, p53). He speaks formally and deferentially to Slim firstly about the mule’s foot and then to inform him that Lennie is playing with the pups. It could be argued that he opened the door quietly because he was aware of his position and wanted to behave reverently to avoid drawing attention to himself. Perhaps this was a lesson learned...
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