Loneliness, isolation, and racism—John Steinbeck examines these motifs in his classic novella Of Mice and Men. His wonderful characters face some aspect of these debilitating aspects of life. Steinbeck intended the reader to stand alongside of Lenny or Crooks when they try to fit in to the harsh world of the 1930s.
Crooks, the only black man on the farm, lives by himself in the barn. The other workers did not want him in the bunk house. In addition, the workers will not let him play cards with them because of his race and his smell. Intelligent, sensitive, and suspicious—Crooks reads, takes care of his room, and handles the horses. He has been so mistreated in his life that it is difficult for him to accept any kindness.
The childlike Lenny does not understand prejudice; therefore, when he goes into Crooks’ room, he tells Lenny:
You go on get outta my room. I ain’t wanted in the bunk house, and you ain’t wanted in my room.
‘Why ain’t you?’ Lennie asked.
Crooks realizes that he has nothing to fear from Lennie, and his need for companionship wins out. He invites Lennie to sit with him.
Although Crooks is sharp witted, his skin color disempowers him and makes him vulnerable to attack from the other workers. His character evokes empathy when the reader understands that his caustic words stem from a lifetime of hurt loneliness.
That same mistreatment sadly causes Crooks to do something despicable to Lennie. Crooks suggests to Lenny that George might come back from town to be with Lennie. When Lennie reacts irrationally, Crooks tries to soothe Lennie and retract his statement.
When Crooks hears about the George and Lennie’s dream farm, Crooks asks to be included in the dream. Crooks believes that he is worthy and equal enough to be in on the plan and farm with the guys.
The worst racial incident occurs when Curley’ s wife shows up in Crooks ‘ room. When she is rebuffed for being in his room, her answer reeks of prejudice:
Curley’s wife says, “Standin here talkin’ to a bunch of bindle stiffs-- a n….., an’ a dum-dum and a lousy ol’ sheep—an likin’ it because they ain’t nobody else.”
Crooks stands up to her: I had enough. You ain’t wanted here…You got no rights comin’ in a colored man’s room. You got no right messing around in here at all…
Curly’s wife immediately retaliates by threatening Crooks with the possibility of telling her husband that Crooks has made sexual overtures toward her or even touched her. That would have been a hanging offense on this farm at this time.
Crooks seems to shrink because he knows she is right. Her words have made Crooks lose all of his pride and self-confidence to this silly woman. The woman’s threats have moved the black man right back to his “position” of inferior to the white men. Jolted back into the reality of the time by Curley’s wife harsh treatment, he accepts the fact that he lives with ever-present racial discrimination. The incident has also diminished the possibility of his being a part of the dream farm.
Again life and his race have beaten Crooks, and he retreats back to his lonely world of isolation and prejudice. The reader then understands that Crooks defines himself based on his race and what other people think of him. It does not matter that he is smarter and better educated than all of the other white me