Last Reviewed on May 28, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1145
One Saturday night, Lennie pays a visit to Crooks. Crooks has been sitting alone in his room, applying liniment to his sore back, and he reluctantly invites Lennie to join him.
Lennie asks why Crooks doesn’t come to the bunkhouse, and Crooks explains that he isn’t “wanted” there, because he is black. Crooks says Lennie is “jus’ nuts” when he talks about his dream of owning a farm with George. Crooks asks Lennie more about his relationship with George: “Sometimes [George] talks, and you don’t know what the hell he’s talkin’ about. Ain’t that so?” Crooks asks. Lennie agrees that he doesn’t always understand what George is saying.
Crooks briefly taunts Lennie with the possibility that George, who has taken Curley to the hospital, may never return for him. He suggests that without George, Lennie would be taken to the psychiatric hospital and tied up “with a collar, like a dog.” Crooks asks Lennie to consider how it would feel to be alone and ostracized the way Crooks himself is. Lennie becomes angry and afraid, demanding, “Who hurt George?” Crooks relents and apologizes, saying, “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
Candy stops by Crooks’s room. In front of Crooks, Candy and Lennie discuss their plan to buy a farm with George. Crooks expresses doubt that their plan will succeed, but he also offers to come live with the men and work for free in the event that their plan succeeds.
Curley’s wife drops by to ask if anyone has seen Curley and insinuates that she already knows he has gone to the brothel. The men ask her to leave, but she refuses and begins to complain of her lonely life and her marriage to Curley. She asks what happened to Curley’s hand, and Candy relays the lie the men planned: that Curley caught his hand in a machine. Curley’s wife does not believe the lie and begins to insult the men. Candy grows angry and tells her she isn’t welcome there. He then mentions his plan to buy a piece of land with George and Lennie. Curley’s wife doubts that the plan will succeed, angering Candy all the more. When Crooks demands that she leave his room, she threatens him, asking if he knows what she could do to him if he complains. Suddenly, Curley’s wife notices the bruises on Lennie’s face. She tells Lennie she’s glad he “bust up Curley a little bit” and that she’d like to “bust up” Curley herself. With that, she leaves Crooks’s room.
Soon, George appears in the doorway, having returned from town. He tells Lennie that he shouldn’t be in Crooks’s room and asks Crooks why he let Lennie stay there. Crooks says he doesn’t mind talking with Lennie, because Lennie is a “nice fella.”
As the conversation progresses, George realizes that Candy and Lennie have shared with Crooks their plan to buy property and live off the land. He scolds Lennie for telling others about their plan. At that, Crooks insists that Lennie, Candy, and George leave. He retracts his previous offer to live with and work for the men, saying, “I didn’t mean it. Jus’ foolin’.”
Chapter 4 takes place in Crooks’s room. Because of his race, Crooks is a man of little power on the ranch, and thus his room is a fitting setting for conversations between several powerless characters: Lennie, Crooks, and Candy. To an extent, Curley’s wife may also be considered in the same category.
When Lennie visits the room, Crooks teases him, exerting his intellectual power over Lennie in the same way that George once did. Crooks suggests that George, who has gone to town with Curley, might abandon Lennie and never come back. Steinbeck writes that Crooks’s face “lighted with pleasure in his torture.” He seems to enjoy making Lennie feel as dejected as he feels, if only for a moment.
After Lennie becomes angry and worried that someone has already hurt George, Crooks softens and apologizes, saying he didn’t mean to scare Lennie. Perhaps he changes his approach because he understands all too well how it feels to be a man of little power. He shifts the conversation to his own situation as the only black man on the ranch, asking Lennie to imagine how it would feel to “have nobody.” At this moment, it seems that Crooks might be jealous of Lennie’s companionship with George and his hope for a better future.
There are several parallels between Crooks and Lennie: Both men are shunned by society based on circumstances out of their control. Both are also shunned, at least to an extent, by the other men on the ranch. Because of their experiences with others, both men are intrigued by the thought of breaking away from society and living off the land.
When Candy stops by Crooks’s room to join the conversation, Crooks has difficulty concealing his pleasure. He is finally receiving the companionship he has previously been denied, if only for a short while. Candy also shares certain similarities with Lennie and Crooks: he has little control over what happens to him, and he longs for a better life.
When he realizes that George, Lennie, and Candy are close to achieving their dream of buying a farm, Crooks volunteers to join them there, pledging to work for free in exchange for the opportunity. Curley’s wife interrupts the conversation, bringing the idea to a halt. Her intrusion is arguably indicative of Crooks’s limited chances of rising above his current station in life.
Crooks becomes frustrated by the conversation between Candy, Lennie, and Curley’s wife and tells them to leave his room, but Curley’s wife reacts scornfully. She issues a vague threat, saying, “You know what I can do to you if you open your trap?” Crooks replies, “Yes, ma’am,” and Curley’s wife demands that he “keep [his] place, saying that she could easily accuse Crooks of improper behavior and have him lynched. In this way, Curley’s wife—though she is powerless in other spheres—wields power over Crooks.
In the hierarchy of power among the characters in the room, it appears that Crooks is at the very bottom. In the end, he retracts his offer to work for free for Candy, George, and Lennie. After Curley’s wife’s threat, Crooks has remembered his hopelessness and his inability to escape it. The chapter ends the same way it began, with Crooks applying liniment to his disfigured back. The ending suggests that Crooks’s fate will never change; he will not go with Lennie and Candy to start a new life. Rather, he will continue to live the life of pain and solitude he already knows.
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