Write About the Ways in Which Steinbeck Presents Either Crooks or Curley’s Wife. to What Extent Does He Create Sympathy for Either of These Characters?
Write about the ways in which Steinbeck presents either Crooks or Curley’s wife. To what extent does he create sympathy for either of these characters? Of Mice and Men is set in 1930’s America in the middle of the economic depression. It is geared towards the pursuit of the American dream, promoting the ideas of equality, life, liberty and happiness. Steinbeck uses Crooks, and to some extent Curley’s wife to challenge the perception of equality and sometimes the language used is, by modern standards, racist and misogynistic.
There is an irony in the fact that the people judging Crooks are less intelligent than he is and they refuse to look at anything other than the stereotype of his ethnicity. Steinbeck reveals as much about Crooks in the things he does not express as in the things he does. The first reference to Crooks, is Curley’s wife calling him in a highly derogatory manner ‘Stable Buck- ooh sta-able Buck! ’ (Steinbeck, 1937, p30). This is a left over from the time when black male slaves were referred to as ‘Bucks’. As this is after the American War of Independence, it is clear that Curley’s wife views him as a slave and therefore, beneath her.
The concept of equality does not exist in her treatment of Crooks. She follows this with what would be considered today as a very offensive, racist term. Steinbeck uses this deliberately to evoke sympathy for Crooks, a man so low down in the hierarchy, he does not even have his own name. He is de-personalised and is addressed in abusive terms. Crooks first appearance is when he opens the door quietly and Steinbeck describes him as ‘lined with pain’ (Steinbeck, 1937, p53). He speaks formally and deferentially to Slim firstly about the mule’s foot and then to inform him that Lennie is playing with the pups.
It could be argued that he opened the door quietly because he was aware of his position and wanted to behave reverently to avoid drawing attention to himself. Perhaps this was a lesson learned the hard way. There is an emphasis on the fact that Crooks is in pain, because he receives no concession for it. In fact, it may be possible to go as far as to argue that Candy’s dog is a metaphor for Crooks himself by suggesting that when something is disabled and no longer financially viable, it should be taken outside and shot. Crooks’ position is no more important than the dog’s.
Crooks feels it important to let Slim know that Lennie is the one playing with the pups, so if something happens to them, he will not be blamed. Maybe Crooks has in the past had to take the blame for events he was not responsible for. Crooks cannot merely be himself and act in the same way as the other men and has to be subservient. In this way, Steinbeck creates sympathy for Crooks’ position even before his true character is revealed. Steinbeck also uses language effectively, by using different registers. His own, educated standard English provides a brusque, pendulous, imperious narrative.
This contrasts with the uneducated, colloquial American dialect used by characters such as Lennie and George. Crooks also uses this dialect to display convergence, even though it is clear from the books he reads, he is capable of communicating on a much higher level. This is another indication that Crooks cannot be whom he wants to be and express himself on a level appropriate for his intellect. It becomes apparent later in the book that there is more to Crooks than is first indicated. Steinbeck reveals this initially by describing the contents of his room, separated, isolated from everyone due to his ethnicity.
And he had books, too; a tattered dictionary and a mauled copy of the California civil code for 1905. ….. A pair of gold-rimmed spectacles hung from a nail above his bed. (Steinbeck, 1937, p70) Steinbeck is implying that a man of Crooks’ intelligence is wasted on menial tasks. It is unclear whether the civil code was there because Crooks wanted to be aware of his rights or he read it for entertainment. Even though he had the information, he did not use it and accepted unfair treatment without challenging it. When Lennie first enters, Crooks is at first defensive as he is not used to visitors invading his personal space.
He then realises he can have some fun with Lennie, who is nowhere near his intellectual equal and Crooks reveals a slightly sadistic streak. He metaphorically, dances all over the slow witted Lennie and is far too quick for him. While he is trying to make the point that although Lennie has George, he is all alone, he enjoys tormenting Lennie Crooks face lighted with pleasure in his torture. (Steinbeck, 1937, p75). Perhaps this was one of the few opportunities he had to sharpen his mind, and he seized it. However, he was quick enough to realise the danger when Lennie was upset and backed down immediately.
This was undoubtedly self-preservation, as Lennie was a big man whom had recently mangled Curley’s hand, but he may have realised he had gone too far and wanted to rectify the situation. Steinbeck uses Crooks’ conversation with Lennie as a means for Crooks to vocalise his position. Lennie asks why he is not welcome in the bunk room and Crooks is aware of the fact he has to spell it out for Lennie (and the reader) and replies “Cause I’m black. They play cards in there, but I can’t play because I’m black. ” (Steinbeck, 1937, p72) This illustrates the rejection Crooks receives on a daily basis.
During his conversation with Lennie and later Candy, who subsequently joins them, it is obvious that as they are treating him as an equal, he is happier and growing in confidence. This is shattered on the arrival of Curley’s wife, a shallow vain, vacuous woman, whose purpose in life appears to be flaunting her sexuality to cause trouble, deriving pleasure in treating Crooks as if he is a sub-species of human and asking after the whereabouts of her errant husband. After she upsets both Lennie and Candy, Crooks asks her to leave. She turns on him and her treatment is brutal and completely crushes him.
His glimmer of hope that he may be treated as an equal is utterly extinguished. The reader’s sympathy is decidedly with Crooks at this point to ensure that later in the plot, Curley’s wife evokes less sympathy when she eventually loses her life. “You know what I can do to you if you open your trap? ” Crooks stared hopelessly at her, and then he sat down on his bunk and drew into himself She closed in on him “You know what I could do? Crooks seemed to grow smaller, and he pressed himself against the wall “Yes, ma’am” “Well you keep your place then….. I could get you strung up on a tree so easy, it aint even funny”
Crooks had reduced himself to nothing. There was no personality, no ego – nothing to arouse either like or dislike. He said: “Yes, ma’am”, and his voice was toneless. (Steinbeck, 1937, p83) By the end of the scene, Steinbeck presents Crooks as a defeated man whom has come full circle. Still ostracised, rejected and lonely. Even though Candy offered him an escape, he doesn’t believe it as he knows the reality of society are those like Curley’s wife. He has no future. Steinbeck leaves the reader with the poignant image of Crooks applying liniment to his own back, injured from being kicked by a horse, with no one to help him.
He is alone, isolated, demoralised and utterly devoid of hope. Steinbeck uses Crooks’ character to present the lie of the American dream. The treatment he receives is the antithesis of equality and freedom. It is impossible not to feel sympathy for someone who is so completely and utterly trapped. He is trapped by a body that causes him pain and no longer works effectively and even more trapped through no fault of his own, by an ignorant society that will not accept him. Bibliography Steinbeck, J. (1937) Of Mice and Men, London, Arrow Books Limited.