Steinbeck paints a portrait of Crooks which situates him a specific time and place. The attitudes of people of the time have shaped Crooks’ character: he is clearly bitter because of the racism he has been subjected to.
This is a pupil essay (Year 9) on Crooks. What are its strengths and weaknesses?
John Steinbeck, the author, uses the character of Crooks to represent racism and symbolize the marginalization of the black community occurring at the time in which the novel is set. Crooks is significant as he provides an insight into the reality of the American Dream and the feelings of all the ranchers: their loneliness and need for company and human interaction. Crooks got his name from his “crooked back,” this suggests he represents something different and he is not your average ranch hand. Having a crooked back in our days indicates a disability, however, we can see that in American society in the 1930’s being black was synonymous of having a disability. The reader has to decide whether Crooks deserves sympathy, or if he is just a bitter, cruel and gruff stable-buck.
We first hear of Crooks when Candy calls him a “nigger,” this is meant as a white insult, in our time this would be seen as racism and unacceptable. This implies that the term “nigger” is acceptable and the time period is in the 1930’s during the Depression era. It’s important to remember that the main theme of this novel is isolation/loneliness. Crooks is lonely because he is the only black man on a white man’s ranch, he is the target of racial discrimination, but we see that he just wants to be accepted and have a friend but is isolated because of his skin colour. He isn’t a bad man at all and Steinbeck shows this extremely well.
In the beginning of chapter 4, Lennie’s and Candy’s presence has mixed effects on the reader, people think he is angry, however, I believe that he’s secretly happy because he has visitors, but he tries to look angry so people see him as they always have, as the isolated back, stable buck guy. Steinbeck described Crooks as a cripple, to me he seems to be closer to horses than he is to humans –he possesses ‘a range of medicine bottles, both for himself and for the horses.’.
He is portrayed as an educated man as he has a ‘tattered dictionary’, and ‘gold – rimmed spectacles’. Steinbeck describes him as a ‘proud aloof man’, and, we can deduct that he had been through a lot of pain and misery during the course of his life, enough for Steinbeck to describe his lips as ‘pain-tightened’.
At first we do not have any sympathy for him as when he starts torturing Lennie his ‘face lighted with pleasure’. Only later we understand that his actions are born out of jealousy.He is jealous of the friendship between Lennie and George.
Through his monologue we understand how lonely and isolated he feels, all he’s ever wanted it ‘ somebody – to be near him’. Crooks says ‘a guy goes nuts when he ain’t got nobody’.
When he realises that Lennie and Candy mean no harm he softens considerably and really believes , for a short time, that he can be part of the ‘dream’, which is him being able to interact with the other, white men on the ranch without being judged. Until Curley’s wife comes in and reminds him of his place in that society.
When Curly’s wife threatens to have him ‘strung up on a tree,’ Crooks grows smaller and ‘reduces himself to nothing’, ‘ no personality, no ego… his voice was toneless.’
The way he changes during this section is key to understanding him and feeling sympathy for him. At the end of the section in chapter 4, he is resigned back to fact that he has no power to change his rather miserable life.
Steinbeck portrays Crooks as a very likeable character. He is lonely and vulnerable and it’s impossible not to feel sorry for him. The narrative style in which Steinbeck portrays Crooks emphasizes the author’s raw power as a story teller. The use of figurative language in describing Crooks creates an atmosphere of reality-we have a vivid picture of how blacks were treated and how they lived not so long ago.