Main theme = prejudice
John Steinbeck aimed to create his novel so that it replicated a cross-section of society in 1930s America; therefore it reflects the large amounts of prejudice around at the time. At that time, for instance, black Americans possessed no rights; consequently the black stable buck, Crooks, is an example of a character that is discriminated against.
Despite being literate, he has long been the victim of oppressive violence, due to the colour of his skin. He often referred to as “nigger” by the fellow ranch workers and this dehumanising insult exhibits the lack of respect for him. Consequently, as a result of the cruel hatred he has experienced, for the whole of his working life, he has retired behind a façade of aloofness. This can be seen by the proud way in which he takes care of his bunk, “the room was swept and fairly neat”, in stark contrast to the dirty bunkhouses of the other itinerant workers.
He is only presented with the opportunity to experience companionship by the innocence of Lennie and, at first, he is sceptical. Consequently, he tries to counter Lennie’s presence with the defensive retort, “You got no right to come in my room”, and this automatic rejection of friendship is caused by the anguish of his segregation.
Nevertheless, he gains self-confidence as a result of Lennie’s company and this encourages him to try to defy the intrusion of Curley’s Wife with the defensive accusation, “you got no call foolin’ around… causin’ trouble”. This episode is an example of the extraordinary effects that prolonged prejudice can have on an individual, as; of course, the confrontation is highly out of character. However, he is humiliated by her consequential vicious threat, “I could get you strung up”. This brutal threat of death re-establishes the cruel power of white over black.
When Steinbeck first introduces Candy, he is just described as “the old man”. This generic term dehumanises him, showing the reader the low status he possesses, because of his old age. Additionally, he is shown to have no real place on the farm; exhibited by the way he was “jus’ standing in the shade”. The word “jus” implies that he has nothing better to do, due to the other ranch workers’ exclusion of him. This illustrates how, because of his age and his disability, he has become marginalized, as symbolised by the word “shade”.
Another character whose life is dominated by prejudice is Curley’s Wife. She experiences extreme exclusion from society, however, in her case, it is her gender and her husband that are the obstacles in her search for companionship. This is because the other characters are suspicious of her and they feel that because of her they might “get canned”. Furthermore, Steinbeck never gives her a name; this has a symbolic meaning that emphasises her second-class citizenship and it reflects the role of women in society at that time.
Additionally, apart from referring to her as “Curley’s Wife”, the author and some of other ranch inhabitants use many derogatory terms, such as “tart” and “rat trap”. Steinbeck selects this belittling language to imply that the men don’t understand her or class her as equal.