Why is the stable buck set apart from other men?

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Your question is evidently referring to the man called Crooks in John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. This is a story set in California in the middle of the 1930s. Crooks is not allowed to sleep in the bunkhouse with the other men because of the simple fact that he is black. It is never stated whether he eats with the other men, but chances are he does not. There was extreme prejudice against African-Americans in those days, even as far away from the Deep South as California. Blacks were not totally segregated in California as they were in the South, but they were virtually confined to black ghettos because landlords would not rent apartments or rooms to them in white neighborhoods. They found it nearly impossible to buy a house in a white neighborhood because the owners would not sell to them for fear of angering their neighbors for what was then called "block busting." If a black man or woman tried to rent a hotel room, he or she would be told there were no vacancies. When black people traveled by automobile they would often buy food at grocery stores and eat in their cars to avoid being humiliated by being refused service at most restaurants. The fact that Crooks had to sleep in the tackle room attached to the stable was just taken for granted. When the U.S. became involved in World War II in 1941, there was no integration of black and white soldiers. This was all just taken for granted, pretty much as it was in the Deep South. The black population of California was very small in the 1930s. There was no point in moving to California because there were no jobs available for blacks except the lowest kinds of jobs like shining shoes and doing janitorial work. There were no black cab drivers or bus drivers or construction workers or policemen or firemen, and few if any jobs available for blacks in restaurants, department stores, or anywhere else. The black population grew dramatically during World War II because of the big demand for labor in ship building and aircraft manufacturing, among other things. Crooks doesn't even complain about being segregated in Steinbeck's novella. He just takes it for granted himself. He doesn't expect anything else. Steinbeck himself does not focus on Crooks' mistreatment but treats it as something taken for granted, just an aspect of reality in a realistic novel. The situation for blacks has improved greatly since the 1930s, although it would be wrong to claim that segregation, discrimination and prejudice no longer exist. The one man who was most influential in bringing about improvement in race relations was Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Another very important figure was Earl Warren, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

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