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The black "stable buck," Crooks, who is marginalized from the society of the other men because he is not allowed to sleep in the bunkhouse as they do, spends lonely nights in the barn, where he has fashioned a room of his own near the stalls for the mules. Unlike some of the other bindle stiffs, Crooks is able to read, and he spends many hours in this occupation. Because of the back injury which has awarded him the nickname he has, Crooks spends much time applying liniment to his pained back that was once broken. In addition, Crooks is fastidious, sweeping his meager quarters and straightening things. Even though it is a Saturday night, Crooks "kept his distance and demanded that others keep theirs." In his meager room, a small electric bulb casts a meager light and Crooks reads from one of his books or magazines.
Because Crooks is black, the unspoken norms of segregation isolate him. He sleeps in his own room, described as a "little shed" that leans against the barn. At first glance, he seems like little more than an animal. His bed is a "long box filled with straw" and he lives with his medicine bottles mingled on a shelf with the medications for the horses. However, we learn he has magazines, a dictionary, a copy of the California civil code and a few "dirty books" on his shelf, so we can conclude that he is an intelligent man and that one way he deals with his loneliness is through reading.
Crooks has put up a huge number of defenses against getting hurt. He tells Lennie that he's not allowed to sleep in the bunkhouse because he's black, and he can't play cards with the other men because they say he "stinks." His chief coping mechanism is to stay aloof from the others. He says they "stink." But it doesn't take him long to open up to Lennie when he realizes that Lennie won't harm him:
You got George. You know he’s goin’ to come back. S’pose you didn’t have nobody. S’pose you couldn’t go into the bunk house and play rummy ‘cause you was black. How’d you like that? S’pose you had to sit out here an’ read books. Sure you could play horseshoes till it got dark, but then you got to read books. Books ain’t no good. A guy needs somebody—to be near him.” He whined, “A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody. Don’t make no difference who the guy is, long’s he’s with you. I tell ya,” he cried, “I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an’ he gets sick.”
We see here that Crooks' loneliness is eating him alive. He says a little later that it is making him crazy. For a moment, he is even so taken by the idea of George and Lennie's farm and the society it could offer that he offers to go in with them on it. Then reality intrudes and the defenses kick in: he says he doesn't want it after all and it will come to nothing. Crooks' chief method of coping with loneliness and the other pain he carries is to try to crush any illusion he has that things will get better.
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