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

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.

amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.