How does Steinbeck show racial discrimination with Crooks in Of Mice and Men?

Steinbeck shows racial discrimination with Crooks in Of Mice and Men in the form of the run-down shed where he is forced to live separately from the other men on the ranch. Racial discrimination can also be seen in the disrespectful way that others talk about him and behave towards him.

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As an African American in a deeply racist society, it's not surprising that Crooks is subject to systematic discrimination on the ranch. As the only person of color working there, he is very much the odd man out, which makes him even more of a target for racial prejudice than...

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As an African American in a deeply racist society, it's not surprising that Crooks is subject to systematic discrimination on the ranch. As the only person of color working there, he is very much the odd man out, which makes him even more of a target for racial prejudice than would otherwise be the case.

The most obvious manifestation of the discrimination that Crooks has to face on a daily basis comes in the form of the run-down shed attached to a barn in which he is forced to live. Crooks's proximity to the barn is no accident; it is a sign that he is regarded as little more than an animal.

That Crooks lives separately from the other men on the ranch is a further sign of racial discrimination. There is no good reason for the men to be separated on racial lines. But because of the prevailing prejudice of the time, it is not thought acceptable for a Black man to share accommodation with white men.

Even in the confines of his tiny shed, Crooks can get no respect. Other people feel free to wander in whenever they feel like it, infringing on his privacy. Crooks gets so fed up with this constant intrusion that he tells Curley's wife that she has no right to be in his room.

Curley's wife responds by threatening to have Crooks lynched. As a white woman, she doesn't believe that African Americans have the right to talk back to her. Her blood-curdling threat to Crooks is yet another example of the racial discrimination that the Black ranch hand has to face on a daily basis.

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Crooks, referred to as the "stable buck," is mistreated, insulted, and threatened.

In Section 2 the old swamper named Candy tells George that the boss "was sure burned" when George and Lennie did not report in the morning:

"Come right in when we was eatin' breakfast and says, "'Where the hell's them new men?' An' he give the stable buck hell, too."

George patted a wrinkle out of his bed, and sat down. "Give the stable buck hell?" he asked.
"Sure. Ya see the stable buck's a n****r."
"N****r, huh?"
"Yeah. Nice fella too . . . The boss gives him hell when he's mad. But the stable buck don't give a damn about that."

The boss makes Crooks the "whipping boy" of the ranch, lashing out at him when he is angry. Crooks is exploited by the ranch hands on occasions such as Christmas. 

Candy tells George about the boss's having bought a gallon of whiskey for the men at Christmas time. Crooks was allowed to enter the bunkhouse, but at the expense of being made amusement for the other men:

"They let the n****r come in that night. Little skinner name of Smitty took after the n****r. The guys wouldn't let him use his feet, so the n****r got him. If he coulda used his feet, Smitty says he woulda killed the n****r."

Crooks is treated in an extremely demeaning manner, exploited by the boss and the ranch hands alike.

Later, in Section 4, Crooks is isolated in the barn where he is made to live alone with the company of nothing but his books. He keeps a copy of the California civil code so that he knows his rights. At first, he is mean to Lennie, but as Lennie talks, Crooks realizes that Lennie is no threat, and he enjoys talking to someone. He tells Lennie that he has to be alone every night. And when he "gets thinkin'," he has no one to tell him whether it is true or not.

"He can't turn to some other guy and ast him if he sees it too. He can't tell. He got nothing to measure by. I seen things out here . . . If some guy was with me, he could tell me I was asleep, an' then it would be all right. But I jus' don't know."

After Lennie tells Crooks about the little farm that he and George are planning to own, Candy comes into the barn, talking about their plans. Crooks thinks that he would like to join them. But, the entry of Curley's wife and her sharp tongue and racial insults end Crooks's hopes to have a place where he can live in peace with others.

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The very fact that Crooks sleeps in separate quarters reveals racial discrimination as he is literally segregated from the other ranch workers. The moment when racial discrimination is most overtly revealed is at the end of Chapter 4 when Curley's wife confronts Crooks. Curley's wife invites herself into Crooks' room when he had already allowed Candy and Lennie in. Noting the danger of having her there, he asks her to leave. She refuses to leave (mostly out of loneliness but also somewhat meddling). Eventually, realizing this room is all he has, Crooks has had enough of Curley's wife pestering Lennie. He exclaims: 

You got no rights comin' in a colored man's room. You got no rights messing around in here at all. 

Curley's wife replies: 

Well, you keep your place then, Nigger. I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain't even funny. 

At this point, Crooks retreated in every way. He later tells Candy and Lennie that Curley's wife is right; that she could have him strung up. Recognizing it is her word against his, he realizes that he has no case. Crooks reluctantly acknowledges that he will be and has always been discriminated against because of the color of his skin. He resorts to backing down and replying, "Yes ma'am" to Curley's wife. 

There is a parallel between Crooks and Lennie (and to some extent, Candy as well). Both Crooks and Lennie are social outcasts: Crooks because of his race and Lennie because of his awkward social behavior (Candy because of his old age). Crooks manages to fit in, albeit as a second-class citizen to the rest, while Lennie requires constant supervision from George in order to fit in. 

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Crooks is a black man on the ranch among white men. For this reason, he is in a difficult place.  He feels alienated more than the other men, who also experience alienation.  

One of the main points of the novella is that the life of migrant workers is lonely. There is no idea of community and friendship, even among men who work and live together on the farm.  This is why Slim is surprised to see that Lennie and George are actually friends.  Slim says:

Slim looked through George and beyond him. “Ain’t many guys travel around together,” he mused. “I don’t know why. Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.”

This is the context of the novella.  All of this is far worse for Crooks.  He is completely alone.  At one point, Crooks says that no one ever visited his place.  Moreover, he stays away from the other men.  The pain that Crooks feels comes out in his conversation with Lennie. He says:

"You go on get outa my room. I ain’t wanted in the bunk house, and you ain’t wanted in my room."

“Why ain’t you wanted?” Lennie asked.

“’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.”

In short, Steinbeck paints a picture of near perfect alienation when it comes to Crooks, the lone black man on the ranch. He has it worse than the others. 

 

 

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