Steinbeck paints a portrait of Crooks which situates him a specific time and place. The attitudes of people of the time have shaped Crooks’ character: he is clearly bitter because of the racism he has been subjected to.
This is a pupil essay (Year 9) on Crooks. What are its strengths and weaknesses?
John Steinbeck, the author, uses the character of Crooks to represent racism and symbolize the marginalization of the black community occurring at the time in which the novel is set. Crooks is significant as he provides an insight into the reality of the American Dream and the feelings of all the ranchers: their loneliness and need for company and human interaction. Crooks got his name from his “crooked back,” this suggests he represents something different and he is not your average ranch hand. Having a crooked back in our days indicates a disability, however, we can see that in American society in the 1930’s being black was synonymous of having a disability. The reader has to decide whether Crooks deserves sympathy, or if he is just a bitter, cruel and gruff stable-buck.
We first hear of Crooks when Candy calls him a “nigger,” this is meant as a white insult, in our time this would be seen as racism and unacceptable. This implies that the term “nigger” is acceptable and the time period is in the 1930’s during the Depression era. It’s important to remember that the main theme of this novel is isolation/loneliness. Crooks is lonely because he is the only black man on a white man’s ranch, he is the target of racial discrimination, but we see that he just wants to be accepted and have a friend but is isolated because of his skin colour. He isn’t a bad man at all and Steinbeck shows this extremely well.
In the beginning of chapter 4, Lennie’s and Candy’s presence has mixed effects on the reader, people think he is angry, however, I believe that he’s secretly happy because he has visitors, but he tries to look angry so people see him as they always have, as the isolated back, stable buck guy. Steinbeck described Crooks as a cripple, to me he seems to be closer to horses than he is to humans –he possesses ‘a range of medicine bottles, both for himself and for the horses.’.
He is portrayed as an educated man as he has a ‘tattered dictionary’, and ‘gold – rimmed spectacles’. Steinbeck describes him as a ‘proud aloof man’, and, we can deduct that he had been through a lot of pain and misery during the course of his life, enough for Steinbeck to describe his lips as ‘pain-tightened’.
At first we do not have any sympathy for him as when he starts torturing Lennie his ‘face lighted with pleasure’. Only later we understand that his actions are born out of jealousy.He is jealous of the friendship between Lennie and George.
Through his monologue we understand how lonely and isolated he feels, all he’s ever wanted it ‘ somebody – to be near him’. Crooks says ‘a guy goes nuts when he ain’t got nobody’.
When he realises that Lennie and Candy mean no harm he softens considerably and really believes , for a short time, that he can be part of the ‘dream’, which is him being able to interact with the other, white men on the ranch without being judged. Until Curley’s wife comes in and reminds him of his place in that society.
When Curly’s wife threatens to have him ‘strung up on a tree,’ Crooks grows smaller and ‘reduces himself to nothing’, ‘ no personality, no ego… his voice was toneless.’
The way he changes during this section is key to understanding him and feeling sympathy for him. At the end of the section in chapter 4, he is resigned back to fact that he has no power to change his rather miserable life.
Steinbeck portrays Crooks as a very likeable character. He is lonely and vulnerable and it’s impossible not to feel sorry for him. The narrative style in which Steinbeck portrays Crooks emphasizes the author’s raw power as a story teller. The use of figurative language in describing Crooks creates an atmosphere of reality-we have a vivid picture of how blacks were treated and how they lived not so long ago.
About @wonderfrancisFrancis Gilbert is a Lecturer in Education at Goldsmiths, University of London, teaching on the PGCE Secondary English programme. He also teaches the Creative Writing module on the MA in Children’s Literature, which is run by Maggie Pitfield and Professor Michael Rosen. Previously, he worked for a quarter of a century in various English state schools teaching English and Media Studies to 11-18 year olds. He has, at times, moonlighted as a journalist, novelist and social commentator. He is the author of ‘Teacher On The Run’, ‘Yob Nation’, ‘Parent Power’, ‘Working The System -- How To Get The Very Best State Education for Your Child’, and a novel about school, ‘The Last Day Of Term’. His first book, ‘I'm A Teacher, Get Me Out Of Here’ was a big hit, becoming a bestseller and being serialised on Radio 4. In his role as an English teacher, he has taught many classic texts over the years and has developed a great many resources to assist readers with understanding, appreciating and responding to them both analytically and creatively. This led him to set up his own small publishing company FGI Publishing (fgipublishing.com) which has published his study guides as well as a number of books by other authors, including Roger Titcombe’s ‘Learning Matters’ and anthology of creative writing 'The Gold Room'. He is the co-founder, with Melissa Benn and Fiona Millar, of The Local Schools Network, www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk, a blog that celebrates non-selective state schools, and has his own website, www.francisgilbert.co.uk. He has appeared numerous times on radio and TV, including Newsnight, the Today Programme, Woman’s Hour and the Russell Brand Show. In June 2015, he was awarded a PhD in Creative Writing and Education by Goldsmiths.
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Crooks (named for his crooked back) is the stable hand who works with the ranch horses. He lives by himself because he is the only black man on the ranch. Crooks is bookish and likes to keep his room neat, but he has been so beaten down by loneliness and prejudicial treatment of that he is now suspicious of any kindness he receives.
Lennie's brief interaction with Crooks reveals the complexity of racial prejudice in the northern California ranch life. Though Crooks was born in California (not like many Southern blacks who had migrated, he implies), he is still always made to feel like an outsider, even in his home state. Crooks is painfully aware that his skin color is all that keeps him separate in this culture. This outsider status causes him to lament his loneliness, but he also delights in seeing the loneliness of others, perhaps because misery loves company. When Crooks begins to pick on Lennie, suggesting George won't come home, we discover the slight mean streak that undoubtedly develops after being alone for so long. Lennie unwittingly soothes Crooks into feeling at ease, and Candy even gets the man excited about the dream farm, to the point where Crooks could fancy himself worthy and equal enough to be in on the plan with the guys.
Crooks's little dream of the farm is shattered by Curley's wife's nasty comments, slotting the black man right back into his "place" as inferior to a white woman. Jolted into that era's reality by Curley's wife harsh treatment, Crooks refuses to say the woman is wrong. Instead, he accepts the fact that he lives with ever-present racial discrimination. He dismisses the other men, saying he had "forgotten himself" because they'd treated him so well. It seems Crooks defines his own notion of himself not based on what he believes he's worth, but on knowing that no matter how he feels, others around him will always value him as less. As quickly as he got excited about the dream, he abandons it, telling Candy he was "Jus foolin" about being interested in his own freedom and happiness.Crooks' Timeline