Crooks' Transformation in John Steninbeck's Of Mice and Men
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Chapter Four of John Steinbeck's emotionally moving, but bleak, novel, Of Mice and Men, is devoted to the character of Crooks. The chapter begins and ends with this recluse character applying liniment, a medicinal fluid rubbed into the skin to soothe pain or relieve stiffness, to his "crooked" back. One of the first impressions given to readers is of his physical pain- which presumable parallels his emotional, or spiritual pain. More to the point, however, the first five words of the chapter, "Crooks, the negro stable buck.." (66), characterize the key element driving this characters particular shade of lonliness. For in contrast to the lonliness of Candy or of Curly's wife, Crooks is devided from the world by his race. So, on one level, with the character of Crooks, Steinbeck captures social injustice of the times, and, on another level, offers yet another character to symbolize the theme of lonliness. Crook's victimization both as a lonely cripple and a black man in a bigoted world is presented as an emotional journey in which Crooks goes first from hopeless recluse, then to hoping to share in the dream of Lennie and George, and finally a return to his hopelessness.
Steinbeck offers several hints that color the sort of hopeless lonliness of Crook's life. For a black stable hand during the Great Depression life was extremely lonely - a life of quiet desperation. To begin with, Steinbeck describes Crooks as "a proud, aloof man. He kept his distance and demanded that other people keep theirs (67). Perhaps this desire to keep apart is merely a psychological trick he has played on himself, as if he wanted to be left always alone? In any case, the story continues with Steinbeck introducing Lennie into Crook's world: "Noiseles...
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...ooling around. Dreaming was a game, and when the game ends he begins his routine game of pretending he prefers his lonliness. Of coarse, his pretending is the lie.
Steinbeck completes this circular transformation of Crooks by making the last paragraph a parallel of the opening one in which Crooks sits, alone of course, on his bunk rubbing his crippled spine, the ever present reminder to him of his painful existence.
In conclusion, Steinbeck has masterfully woven into his story this character analysis of, arguably, the most pained victim in the author's mind. The proof of his importance to Steinbeck is the fact that the chapter is devoted to Crooks himself. It perhaps reveals Steinbeck's own personal observation, and concern, with the most victimized of Americans, the black man.
Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men. New York. Peguin Books, 1993.