In chapter four, in Steinbeck's novel Of Mice and Men, Curley's wife comes into Crooks bunk to ask if anyone has seen her husband. After some conversation, Crooks tells her that she does not belong in his bunk and that she has to leave. Their conversation is as follows:
She turned on him in scorn. "Listen, Nigger," she said. "You know what I can do to you if you open your trap?"
Crooks stared hopelessly at her, and then he sat down on his bunk and drew into himself.
She closed on him. "You know what I could do?"
Crooks seemed to grow smaller, and he pressed himself against the wall. "Yes, ma'am."
"Well, you keep your place then, Nigger. I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain't even funny."
This attack on Crooks is vicious for a couple reasons. First, Curley's wife uses the term "nigger." Today, this term is not an accepted word with which one uses to speak to, or about, African Americans. Many may find this verbal attack as vicious based upon the change of the usage of the word.
Second, Curley's wife threatens Crooks with stringing him up (having him hung). Crooks knows that he is not considered a true "human being" based upon the fact that he is black. All Curley's wife would have to do is say something to Curley about Crooks and he would be hung.
The viciousness of her attack is based solely upon the fact that she does not even have to touch him to threaten him. The hint of "telling" is enough for Crooks to fear for his life. Therefore, the viciousness is compounded by the fact that it is simply her word against his. Underneath it all, it is her prejudice and hatred which makes her vicious.