Crooks is the ‘stable buck’ for the ranch, who looks after the many horses and mules the farm uses.. He is vital in the novel as it is through him that Steinbeck uses to show race and act as a voice of the minority since he is the only coloured person on the ranch. His presence also enables the book to show a monocultural society and provide some evidence of racism which was present in the 1930s in the USA – when the book was written. Steinbeck presents him in a complex way because at times he is portrayed as being in hardship and alone, while at other times as one who is included in the life of the ranch.
When C rooks is first introduced in the book he is perceived as nothing but a scapegoat due to the difficult relationships he has with other people in the ranch. This is evident when Candy says to George, ‘the boss gives him hell when he’s mad’. The word ‘hell’, which has connotations of pain, eternal punishment and death is an expression to show how badly people on the ranch treat each other as Candy doesn’t just simply say the boss gives him a ‘hard time’ . Moreover, it makes the reader sympathise with him because Crooks appears to be innocent as it is unclear why the boss ‘gives him hell’ which suggests that he is an easy target and very vulnerable. The fact that the boss ‘gives him hell’ it shows that the boss controls him, and by using the pronoun ‘him’, Steinbeck is suggesting that the boss only picks on one man- Crooks. In addition, by saying ‘when he is mad’ gives the impression that life on the ranch is tough, as people are tough on each other. The use of the word ‘mad’ which has connotations of being angry emphasises this point. Furthermore, the fact that Candy then goes on to say that the boss is ‘a pretty nice fella’ but ‘gets mad sometimes’ suggests that Crooks is the main target on whom the boss takes out his anger because despite only getting mad ‘sometimes’ it is always during these odd occasions that he takes his anger out on Crooks. The effect of the word ‘sometimes’ may be to imply that anger is taken out on Crooks when he is not expecting it. This then results in the reader sympathising with him more as Crooks could always feel anxious, restless and in fear of being given hell at anytime.
Steinbeck also explores the use of a derogatory word, ‘nigger’, which the ranchmen constantly use when referring to Crooks. Steinbeck uses this word as a symbol of racial segregation in the era the book was written- the 1930s in USA, a time when black people had such a low status that the word ends up being used as means of oppression and domination. This therefore could be an indication to the reader as being the reason why the boss gives him hell- it sort of enables him to be a boss of maximum power. Also, the fact that the ranchmen don’t ever think to use his proper name could suggest he isn’t greatly respected and therefore accepted.
However, treating Crooks like this may not be entirely intentional as it could be a reflection of what society was like in Steinbeck’s day -USA 1930s- when black people like Crooks had no rights and had a lower status in comparison to everyone else in society.
On the other hand, one could argue that you can’t just single out Crooks as being a scapegoat because that is just how all those of less authority in the ranch were treated and so it is not primarily meant as racial discrimination. For example, there is Lennie who gets mocked by his own companion George as he admits to always playing jokes on him because he says he was ‘too dumb’ and Curley’s wife whom no-one seems to respect not only because she is never referred to by a name but just as another part of Curley, but also because she is constantly spoken about negatively, being a ‘bitch’, ‘poison’ and a ‘rattrap’. The use of the adjective ‘rattrap’ gives the reader the impression that she is the sort of woman who ends up getting into trouble with men.