Of Mice and Men
John Steinbeck
Contributed by Joslyn Justiniano
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Section 4
Summary

From Lennie talking to Crooks in the harness room to after Curley’s wife threatening Crooks

The following evening (a Saturday), Crooks is in the harness room, sitting on his bunk. The black stable-hand is said to be a “proud, aloof man” who enjoys reading. He has a crooked back, and this is why he has the nickname “Crooks.” Lennie has been tending his puppy in the barn. He comes to the doorway, hoping to find company. Crooks tries to send him away, declaring that as black man aren’t allowed in white quarters, white men cannot come into his. Lennie is confused. He explains that all the other men have gone into town and that he noticed Crook’s light on. He just wanted company. It is Lennie’s “disarming smile” that makes Crooks finally give in.

Just like heaven. Ever’body wants a little piece of lan’. I read plenty of books out here. Nobody never gets to heaven, and nobody gets no land.

Shortly after this, Lennie forgets that he’s supposed to keep the farm dream secret and starts telling Crooks about it. Crooks hears him with disbelief, thinking that he must be talking about a fantasy arising from Lennie’s mental disability. Crooks tells Lennie about his own past, talking about how he lived on a chicken farm early in life. White children visited him there to play. He explains, though, that felt very much alone even as a child. There was no other black family for miles, and his father was always warning him against being friendly with the white neighbors. When Crooks was a little boy, he didn’t understand why his father gave this advice. As he got older, though, he came to comprehend it perfectly. Now that he works on a ranch that has no other black worker, he resents the racist social practices that force him to sleep by himself in the stable. Crooks is overwhelmed with feelings of vulnerability and weakness, and he takes it out on Lennie. He suggests that perhaps George might never come back from town. He finds himself enjoying tormenting Lennie in this way, until Lennie eventually becomes angry. He acts in a threatening way, asking “Who hurt George?” Alarmed, Crooks promises that George will return. He starts discussing his childhood again, and then Lennie goes back to talking about his dream. Crooks bitterly declares that this is a dream cherished but never realized by every farm-hand. He states that a little bit of land is as difficult to find as heaven.  

Candy eventually comes in. This is the first time he has ever been in Crooks’s room, even though they’ve worked together for many years. While both men seem uncomfortable at first, Candy shows all the necessary respect and Crooks find himself happy to have more company. Candy discusses raising rabbits on the farm with Lennie. He has done some calculations and he believes he knows how money can be made with rabbits. Crooks persists in dismissing their dream until Candy tells him they’ve already chosen the land and have almost all the funds required to purchase it. This makes Crooks listen with greater interest. Crooks shyly makes the suggestion that he could enter into the plan with them. However, Curley’s wife makes an appearance and interrupts the discussion.

Curley’s wife inquires after her husband, but then declares she’s aware the men have gone to a brothel. She makes the cruel comment that “they left all the weak ones here.” Candy and Crooks tell her to leave. She doesn’t, however, and she begins telling them about her unhappy marriage and loneliness. Candy orders her to leave and declares proudly that if she tried to get them fired, they’d be able to buy their own place to live, in any case. After laughing at them, Curley’s wife continues complaining about Curley. She states she feels it’s pathetic that she desires company so terribly that she will resort to talking to Lennie, Candy, and Crooks. She doesn’t believe her husband’s claim of getting his hand caught in a machine, and she asks what really happened to it. She concludes that Lennie got into a fight with Curley when she sees the bruises on his face.

Crooks is annoyed, and he tells her to leave before he lets the boss know what she’s really like. She tells him that she can do anything she likes to him, implying that she could have him lynched. Crooks feels frightened and becomes quiet. Candy declares that he can hear the men returning, and she finally leaves. Before she does, however, she praises Lennie for beating her husband. When George appears, he chides Candy for telling other people about their farm. As the white men leave, Crooks says he’s changed his mind about wanting to live at their farm. He calls out after them, “I wouldn’ want to go no place like that.”

Analysis

The character of Crooks is introduced in this section of the book. Before this, we have only seen him briefly. Crooks is lonely, like the other men in the story. Similar to Candy, he is afflicted by a physical disability that makes him different than the other workers. It also makes him worry about being seen as no longer useful on the ranch. The isolation Crooks experiences is made far worse by the fact that as a black man, he is forced to sleep by himself in the stables and he isn’t allowed inside the white quarters. He isn’t asked to play cards or visit brothels with them. He is hurt by this isolation and feels bitter about it.  

Steinbeck shows his skill in the creation of Crooks. This is true on a number of levels. First, Crooks enriches the story’s social significance by providing race as another context in which the author’s central thesis can be understood. The reader has already seen how the world’s social structures crush men who have physical or mental infirmities. We see with Crooks that the same predatory and unjust rules affect people with a different skin color. Curley uses Crooks’s race as a weapon, making him entirely powerless. He has no possible defense when she implies she could have him lynched. Another important point to understand about Crooks’s character is that he isn’t as easy to categorize as the men who surround him. While Curley might seem overly antagonistic and Lennie rather too innocent to be seen as realistic and complex human beings, there is enough ambivalence in Crooks’s character that he is more believable. He is seduced by the dream of the farm even though he’s already dismissed it as foolishness. Additionally, while he feels bitter about being excluded by the other men, he is pleased to have Lennie’s company. When Candy comes into the room, Crooks finds it “difficult…to conceal his pleasure with anger.” Even though he is desperate for companionship, however, he doesn’t restrain himself from lashing out at Lennie with cruel ideas about George being hurt and never returning.

The things Crook does in this respect help readers better understand the predatory world in which the ranch-hands live. In addition to the strong attacking the weak, the weak lash out at the weaker. If they lived in a better world, Lennie, Crooks, and perhaps even Curley’s wife could form an alliance. They could be brought together by the fact that society punishes them for being who they are: mentally disabled, black, and female, respectively. In the world of the ranch, though, they find themselves pitted against one another. Crooks tries to upset Lennie until threatened with physical harm. Crooks implies that Curley’s wife is a tramp, and she threatens to set a lynch mob on him in response. When Curley’s wife appears in the doorway of Crooks’s room, she alludes to how weak she perceives them to be. She says they are “a nigger an’ a dum-dum and a lousy ol’ sheep,.” In making this vicious statement, she accurately exposes the way they are perceived by society and why they are ostracized. In a similar way to Crooks, Curley’s wife shows a deep vulnerability here. She doesn’t hesitate to tell the men about her unhappy marriage and loneliness. It is because she is equally pathetic to the men that she seeks to expose and attack their weaknesses.

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