In John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, why does Crooks keep a California civil code from 1905?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In John Steinbeck'sOf Mice and Men, Crooks is the most pathetic character of all. He is not only severely crippled, but he is the innocent victim of flagrant racial prejudice. He is not permitted to live in the bunkhouse with the other men, all of whom receive a monthly wage. Crooks probably only receives his food and a miserable little room off the stable and no pay at all. He does not even feel secure in his situation because he can be discharged whenever it appears that he is no longer capable of working with the horses and repairing the leather tackle.

Crooks has developed a defiant, independent, indifferent attitude. Steinbeck describes him and his room in the fourth chapter:

This room was swept and fairly neat, for Crooks was a proud, aloof man. He kept his distance and demanded that other people keep theirs.

He spends most of his leisure time alone. There was, of course, no television in those days, and Crooks apparently does not even own a radio, which would have given him some illusion of companionship. He has learned to pass the time in reading, but he is so poor that he cannot buy books or magazines. The reading material he possesses all appears to have been salvaged from garbage cans or in a few cases given to him when nobody in the bunkhouse had any further use for it.

And he had books, too; a tattered dictionary and a mauled copy of the California civil code for 1905. There were battered magazines and a few dirty books on a special shelf over his bunk.

The copy of the California civil code for 1905 would be totally worthless even in good condition, because it is about thirty years out of date. But this copy is less than worthless because it has been "mauled," probably by being carted away with a lot of other trash and ending up in some garbage dump where it was run over by truck wheels. The fact that Crooks keeps it and even occasionally reads a few pages suggests his extreme poverty as well as that his reading is motivated more by his enforced isolation and loneliness than by a natural preference for that solitary leisure pastime. Crooks is a man who collects things because having possessions, however valueless, enhances his sense of self-worth.

Steinbeck was a great writer. One of his talents was the ability to employ indirect characterization. The description of his room and meager possessions characterizes Crooks as proud, destitute, isolated, lonely, victimized, and helpless. It also by implication points the finger of scorn at society for mistreating innocent people so heartlessly.