I am going to compare and contrast Crooks from ‘Of Mice and Men’ by John Steinbeck and the Anarchist from ‘The Stolen Bacillus by H. G. Wells. They are both outsiders, these are people who are in some way different from the society in which they live. Both stories show the reactions of isolated people who are not socially accepted. Crooks is a Negro stable buck living in a racist 1930’s America, in California. He has a small, but significant role in the story, his character tells us about the theme of racism.
It acts like a vehicle thereby enabling Steinbeck to write about some of the conflicts in 1930’s America. The Anarchist is one of the main characters in the Stolen Bacillus. It is set in the late 19th Century, in Victorian London, capital of the British Empire. Both Characters were victims of prejudice. Crooks being a black man, most people had bad racial attitudes towards him. Lennie and Candy didn’t because they also suffered prejudice. The Anarchist hates the idea of rules in society. He looked differently from everyone else, like a ghost or skeleton.
He suffered from being a social outcast; everyone looked down at him, showing a kind of idealogical prejudice. 1930’s California was the time of the Great Depression / Recession. There was mass unemployment and every man was egocentric. They were scared of each other ‘You’re all scared of each other, that’s what. Ever one of you’s scared the rest is goin to get something on you’ This is Curley’s wife commenting on people’s attitudes at the time. California was full of ranches; this is where a lot of people worked. Life for them was hard. They worked for long hours for little pay.
They spent their small disposable income on drink and sex instead of saving up for the American Dream, ‘ever’ time a whore-house or a blackjack game took what it takes’. Crooks is sceptical throughout the story, this was one of his comments. The story is about a group of people working on the Tyler Ranch. Steinbeck presents Crooks as a victim of prejudice, by making him an overworked and badly treated old black man. ‘His lean face was lined with deep black wrinkles’ and he had ‘thin pain-tightened lips’ He has an arched back ‘his body bent over… by his crooked spine’ This is where he got his name from I presume.
‘Eyes lay deep in his head… glittered with intensity’ He is quite a frail man, but ‘tidy and aloof’ He is dressed normally, with jeans and a shirt. He has pink ears and palms, and a dark chin. His has a weak appearance. Born in Soledad, California – they were the only black family for miles around. He liked playing with the white children ‘My ol’ man didn’t like that’, ‘I never knew till long later why he didn’t like that’ He probably didn’t understand the concept of race at that time. This separation / alienation from childhood might have developed his dislike towards black people.
His loneliness is highlighted through the things people say to him in the story. ‘… You keep your place nigger… ‘ and ‘you know what I can do to you if you open your trap’ both of these are things Curley’s wife said – a woman. Women were victims of sexism, but it didn’t mean they weren’t racists. This shows what scanty a life he has, with no status… Crooks the stable buck, nothing else. The ranch workers influence him; they make sure he knows his position in society. ‘This is just a nigger talkin’ an’ a busted-back nigger. So it don’t mean nothing, see?
‘ Crooks also says ‘If I say something, why it’s just a nigger saying it. ‘ He is shut out of society and probably has shame on himself. When Lennie enters Crook’s room for the first time, Crooks acts quickly, very defensively. He takes advantage of Lennie because he is mentally retarded. This is a rare occasion in the book where the writer shows Crooks emotions. ‘Books ain’t no good. A guy needs somebody to be near him’ ‘I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an’ He shows his plead for friends, someone to talk to. It means he isn’t just a nobody, for mocking. He does have feelings.
His hopes are to live the ‘American Dream’ to be free, live on the ‘fatta da land’ in their own house, and to be treated as an equal, ‘Just like heaven’ this is what motivates him. He is partially sceptical when he knows no one has made it ‘Nobody never gets to heaven, and nobody never gets no land’ He has his opinions, but he is alienated – segregated from the others. When he is first introduced into the story – his description is of an old overworked black man. We are meant to take pity on him. Apart from being black he is crippled. This perhaps adds to the prejudice he suffers.
Later on he says, ‘I ain’t a Southern Negro’ (they were descended from slaves) This makes us aware that even he, the most badly treated person on the ranch has his own prejudices. He isn’t the lowest in society after all ‘he was a proud aloof man’ He does have some dignity, ‘ A coloured man got to have some rights’ He studies his Civil Rights book, he knows that others should consider him as an equal. Even through with his disrespect from the ranch workers, he still has self-esteem and regards himself above others. The white ranch workers treat him like an animal.
They make him sleep near the manure pile, he isn’t allowed with them in the bunkhouse and they wouldn’t even think of taking him to town with them, ‘… they left all the weak ones here’ is how Curley’s wife described Crooks, Candy and Lennie. They do show a small bit of sympathy for him – he still has a job. He does own a shotgun, for his security and possibly a deterrent to scare them away, but something for the ranch workers to be jealous of, all they have is handguns. Crooks hurts nobody, but he does enjoy threatening Lennie for a short period ‘Crooks face lighted with pleasure in his torture.
‘ He enjoyed what he was doing, because finally he could prejudice, like the ranch workers do to him. When Lennie gets physical, and attempts to hurt crooks, he stops, ‘I was just supposin’ I think Steinbeck made him old and frail for a reason, not as a stereotype for all blacks, but to dramatise the racism the ranch workers show. The characteristics of Crooks could have been different if he were a white man. He would possibly have less wrinkles, but more respect from the other men on the ranch. He wouldn’t be abused, but will still be a self-indulgent stranger.