How are Crooks and Curley's wife presented in Of Mice and Men?
Crooks and Curley's wife are treated as outcasts, and thus experience terrible loneliness in John Steinbeck's novella Of Mice and Men. Crooks is the stable buck on the ranch. He is a black man on an all-white ranch in the 1930s, so he is the victim of both segregation and racism. Curley's wife is the only woman on a ranch full of men. She is very young and pretty and quite out of place.
Crooks is first described in chapter two by the old swamper, Candy. Because he's black, Crooks has his own room in the barn. Steinbeck uses the words "proud" and "aloof" to portray Crooks. He may be aloof because he senses the prejudice of the some of the men. He isn't often allowed in the bunkhouse where the white workers live. Candy relates the story of the time Crooks got to come into the bunkhouse on a special occasion. Crooks ended up fighting one of the workers, presumably over a race issue. Candy describes the fight:
"They let the nigger come in that night. Little skinner name of Smitty took after the nigger. Done pretty good, too. The guys wouldn't let him use his feet, so the nigger got him. If he coulda used his feet, Smitty says he woulda killed the nigger. The guys said on account of the nigger's got a crooked back, Smitty can't use his feet.
In chapter four the reader learns the depth of Crooks' loneliness as he talks to Lennie in his room in the barn. He explains to Lennie why he can't go in the bunkhouse:
Cause I'm black. They play cards in there, but I can't play because I'm black. They say I stink. Well, I tell you, you all of you stink to me.
Crooks goes on to tell Lennie about his life and how lonely he is. He is actually happy that Lennie comes in because he has someone to talk to. He says,
"I seen it over an' over—a guy talkin' to another guy and it don't make no difference if he don't hear or understand. The thing is, they're talkin', or they're settin' still not talkin'. It don't make no difference, no difference.
Curley's wife is similar to Crooks. She is also different and is treated with prejudice. The men on the ranch often refer to her with derision. She is called a tramp, a tart and a floozy. She is married to Curley, but we know he doesn't treat her right or pay much attention to her. In fact, Curley and his wife are never in the same scene together until the end, after she is dead. So she craves the attention of the other men on the ranch. They avoid her and treat her poorly. Like Crooks, she explains her plight to Lennie. In chapter five she says:
'What's the matter with me?' she cried. 'Ain't I got a right to talk to nobody? Whatta they think I am, anyways? You're a nice guy. I don't know why I can't talk to you. I ain't doin' no harm to you.'
And later she confides with Lennie about her dislike of Curley. She married him when she was very young and admits it was a mistake. She says,
'Well, I ain't told this to nobody before. Maybe I oughten to. I don't like Curley. He ain't a nice fella.'
Because Crooks and Curley's wife are very much alike, it is ironic when they clash in chapter four. Curley's wife has joined Crooks, Lennie and Candy in the black man's room. As always, she is lonely and is simply looking for someone to talk to. The men are mistrustful and don't want to have anything to do with her. Ultimately, Crooks orders her out and she lashes back at him, reminding him of his race and what she could do to him. She says,
'Listen, Nigger,' she said. 'You know what I can do to you if you open your trap?...Well, you keep your place then, Nigger. I could get you strung upon a tree so easy it ain't even funny.'
Because of Curley's wife's words, Crooks' hope of joining the dream of George, Lennie and Candy is shattered. He is destined to live out his life on the ranch. For Curley's wife, her fate can be seen as even less kind. Her incessant longing for attention gets her into trouble as she flirts with Lennie in chapter five.