How does Crooks experience racism on the ranch?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Crooks is the only black worker on the ranch. He suffers from racial discrimination and is forced to live in a segregated room attached to the barn instead of in the bunkhouse with the other white workers. Being that the novella is set in the 1930s, which was a time when black citizens had little or no civil rights, Crooks suffers from racial discrimination and occupies the lowest position on the ranch's social hierarchy. Crooks's segregated life results in his loneliness, and he is depicted as a frustrated, irritable man who longs for company and social interactions. In addition to living segregated from the white workers, Crooks laments about his lack of voice and power on the ranch. In chapter four, Crooks tells Lennie,

If I say something, why it’s just a nigger sayin’ it. (Steinbeck, 35)

The white workers on the ranch consider themselves superior to Crooks, which is why they refuse to listen to him. They perceive him as an ignorant black man. In addition to being dehumanized because of his race, Crooks also endures racial slurs and derogatory comments on the ranch. He is also left out of certain activities that the white workers enjoy, which includes heading into town to gamble and socialize with women. Crooks also is forced to endure physical threats from white characters, who take advantage of his powerless position. When Curley's wife enters Crooks's room, she begins to criticize the men and threatens to have Crooks hanged by saying,

Well, you keep your place then, Nigger. I could get you strung upon a tree so easy it ain’t even funny. (Steinbeck, 39)

Overall, Crooks experiences racism on the ranch by being segregated from the white workers, treated as a second-class citizen, and having to endure racial slurs and threats without being able to defend himself.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The racism at the ranch, indicative of racism within society at large in the United States of the 1930s, is blatant and ugly. Crooks, the only black man on the ranch, is deemed unfit to live in the bunkhouse with the white ranch hands and is consigned to live alone in a small room off the barn where he is isolated from human companionship. He was allowed in the bunkhouse on one occasion, we learn, so that he could be abused and humiliated for the entertainment of the other men. The racism Crooks experiences at their hands is abhorrent; however, it is an encounter in Crooks’s own room that unmasks the truly despicable face of racism, and it belongs to Curley’s pretty young wife.

Hungry for company, Crooks allows Lennie and Candy into his room when they come to visit him. Relating to Crooks as an equal, they share the plan to buy a farm. Race is forgotten, until Curley’s wife appears. Crooks orders her out of his room when she becomes belligerent and insulting. The backlash is immediate. Curley’s wife attacks Crooks in the most despicable display of racism in the novel. Warning him to remember his “place” and stay in it, she reminds Crooks that she can have him “strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny,” implying that she has the power to kill him by accusing him of rape or some other heinous assault. The threat is chilling because Crooks knows it’s true. His word means nothing, and Lennie and Candy’s testimony would not save him from her false accusation.

As Curley’s wife stands over Crooks, her face twisted with rage and hatred, he is terrified, powerless to defend himself against her malice, except by ceasing to be himself and by adopting the subservient persona that keeps him alive in a hostile white society. Withering under her attack, he seems to make himself physically smaller as he withdraws from his environment. Crooks’s dignity is destroyed, and his hope for a new life on the farm is crushed; daring to think of himself as someone other than a black man is too dangerous. The absolute power Curley’s wife wields over Crooks, her deliberate malevolence in using it, and the superiority she feels in reducing him to nothing demonstrate the truly evil nature of racism, a disease that inflicts suffering upon its victims and makes monsters out of those who are infected with it.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial