A Man Robbed of His Dignity: An African American Facing Social Injustice in Of Mice and Men On February 26th, in Sanford, Florida, a seventeen-year-old boy named Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman. Zimmerman’s stated reason was self-defense, but many believe that he shot Martin because of racial discrimination. African Americans suffer much discrimination despite being guaranteed equal rights by the Fourteenth Amendment. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck, is about two migrant farmers living during the Great Depression.
In the book there is only one African-American character; he is a California born stable worker known as Crooks on the ranch. His name has both a figurative and literal meaning: he was kicked in the back by a horse, leaving him with a crooked back, and he has been robbed of his dignity as well as his hope. Crooks faces many problems mainly due to the fact that he is African American. By presenting Crooks as a segregated, cynical, and dehumanized African American character, Steinbeck displays the effects of racism during the Great Depression. In the middle of the novella, Lennie is in Crooks’s room even though Crooks does not want him in his room because he knows that Lennie is a nuisance. Lennie is attempting to have a conversation with Crooks by questioning him. Crooks responds to one question with anger, “Well, I got a right to have a light. You go on get outta my room. I ain’t wanted in the bunkhouse, and you ain’t wanted in my room…’[c]ause I’m black…[t]hey say I stink, well I tell you, all of you stink to me”(Steinbeck 68).
Crooks is accepting that everyone on the ranch segregates him. Because Crooks is a poor African American, he only has a few possessions. One of the few things that Crooks has is his own room, but by Lennie coming into his room, he feels it is being taken away; therefore, he wants Lennie out. Crooks is not wanted in the bunkhouse because of his race so he wants to make the white workers feel the same as he does by excluding them from his room. Typically, when one smells, people do not want to be around that person.
Because Crooks keeps saying negative things regarding whites, it is implied that Crooks despises whites because of their harsh treatment towards him. Steinbeck is exposing the segregation that African Americans faced during the Great Depression, which adversely changed their personalities. * In addition to Steinbeck presenting Crooks as an isolated, segregated character, he depicts Crooks as cynical. Candy and Lennie are in Crooks’s room and they are talking about their future on their dream farm.
In response to Candy and Lennie enjoying themselves by talking about land, Crooks remarks, “You guys is just kiddin’ yourself. You’ll talk about it a hell of a lot, but you won’t get no land… Hell, I seen too many guys. Lennie here’ll quit an’ be on the road in two, three weeks. Seems like ever’ guy got land in his head” (Steinbeck 75). Crooks is clearly being bitter and cynical about their dream and saying that George, Lennie, and Candy’s dream is unachievable. Crooks was not capable of achieving a dream because he was limited by racial discrimination.
Not only that, but because of the economic hardships that almost all Americans faced during the late 1930s and 40s, creating a business was almost unattainable. During the Great Depression, most blacks were unemployed and homeless. This all creates angry feelings in Crooks, and he takes it out on whites since they limited what blacks could do. Steinbeck is showing that African Americans lacked hope during the Great Depression. * The first time Steinbeck introduces the single African American in the book is in the fourth chapter.
Steinbeck describes Crooks as, “ the Negro stable buck,” and his place as, “the harness room; a little shed that leaned off the wall of the barn” (Steinbeck 66). Steinbeck is implying that Crooks sleeps with animals and tools. He is using the word “buck” which is a derogatory term for an African American, as well as a word used for a male animal. Crooks’s bunk is in a room filled with tools. Not only does Crooks sleep with animals and tools, but also his room is filled with items that would remind one of slavery.
For example, there is a whip and tar that could be making a reference to tar-and-feathering. Both items were used by white masters to punish slaves that they believed were being disobedient. Crooks sleeping with animals suggests that because of Crooks’s skin color, he is of the equivalence of an animal. Sleeping with tools defines Crooks as one who is being used as if he were a tool due to his race. Steinbeck is presenting African Americans as dehumanized, and as a group that has no respect from others because their skin is darker than the skin of a white man. *
Crooks exposes the many problems that the African American community faced during the Great Depression. As the common man for African Americans, Crooks symbolizes the powerlessness of blacks who were completely taken advantage of by whites. They were also used as if they were possessions used to assist owners. They are equal to animals, which are considered to be in every way inferior to all human beings. They are so restrained by whites that it is nearly impossible for a black man to achieve something, because during the Great Depression whites were prioritized over blacks for employment.
Steinbeck uses Crooks to convey the message that the black community was so disrespected that many considered the group to not even be human. As a result, they made many tyrannical actions that hurt African Americans. In summary, blacks were isolated, demeaned, and pessimistic due to the effects of racism. Even though it has been nearly 145 years since the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, African Americans still face a lot of social inequality, as evident in the Trayvon Martin case.
Cite this Of Mice and Men Character Analysis
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