How does Steinbeck create sympathy for Crooks in Of Mice and Men?

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mrsdutko eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Steinbeck shows sympathy for the character of Crooks in Of Mice and Men in a variety of ways. Crooks is described by the other ranch hands as being the only black man at the ranch. The racial slurs of that particular time, the "n" word, is applied to him by the other workers at the ranch. It's interesting that despite many of the workers being migrant workers and relatively transient, they all still look down upon him as being lesser than they are solely due to the color of his skin. 

When Lennie approaches Crooks in his room, Crooks initially shies away from having any contact with him.

Crooks scowled, but Lennie's disarming smile defeated him. "Come on in and set a while," Crooks said. "'Long as you won't get out and leave me alone, you might as well set down." His tone was a little more friendly. (68)

Crooks has been alone for so long that he doesn't really know how to interact with others in a normal way. Lennie's bashful attempts to interact with him are rebuffed and Crooks even begins to mess with Lennie's head in a cruel way, suggesting that Lennie won't be able to depend on George forever. Crooks' isolation is reinforced when he tells his personal history. 

"I was born right here in Southern California. My old man had a chicken ranch, ‘bout ten acres. The white kids come to play at our place, an’ sometimes I went to play with them, and some of them was pretty nice. My ‘ol man didn’t like that. I never knew till long later why he didn’t like that. But I know now." He hesitated, and when he spoke again his voice was softer. "There wasn’t another colored family for miles around. And now there ain’t a colored man on this ranch an’ there’s jus’ one family in Soledad. (69)

Crooks has finally realized how others view him - as a black man, as lesser. Since there aren't any other people like him on the ranch, he's truly alone - far more alone than any other character shown in the text.