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Barron's Booknotes-Of Mice And Men by John Steinbeck
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CHAPTER 4: THE OUTCASTS

You have probably noticed that until the fight at the end of Chapter 3, George and not Lennie has been in the center of the action and a part of the conversations going on at the ranch. That's all going to change. The focus is shifting now, and Lennie is going to be taking over throughout most of the rest of the book. And from what we've already seen of Lennie, we can guess that bad things are likely to happen.

One way that Steinbeck signals that changing focus is to move the setting of Chapter 4 from the bunk house to a place outside of the main life of the ranch. Steinbeck chooses as his "outside" setting Crooks' room off of the barn. Interestingly enough, there Will be several more setting changes before the end of the book, but the action will never return to the bunk house. Things will never get back to normal. This switch of setting as a way to change the focus from George to Lennie makes sense because, as we have seen, George can fit into the bunk house life, but Lennie can't. George plays horseshoes with the other men and goes along to the whorehouse. Meanwhile, Lennie stays in the barn to play with his puppy.

Choosing the black man's room as the setting makes sense for another reason. Steinbeck wants us to feel the isolation and discrimination that misfits such as Lennie, Candy, Crooks, and Curley's wife have to deal with. As we discover early in the chapter, only the boss and Slim have ever entered Crooks' room. Crooks is isolated both by his skin color and by the home he has been assigned.



You've all seen cluttered rooms, but not many have as much stuff in them as Crooks' room. Part of the stuff is for Crooks himself and part of it is for the horses. Steinbeck describes all of the possessions in detail. Crooks has a lot of things, but look carefully at them. There are broken harnesses and split collars and drippy cans of tar. Nothing is whole. Even Crooks' personal items include tattered books, battered magazines, and gold-rimmed glasses hanging from a nail. Remember the description of the bunk house at the beginning of the last chapter? Compare this room with that one. There are several contrasts you could make, particularly about openness and closeness and lightness and darkness. Though there doesn't seem to be any brightness here; Lennie can spot the one light shining out of the room. It calls him to enter and start talking to Crooks.

For the first time we are seeing Lennie without George. We have a chance to find out what kind of person he really is. George has already told us that Lennie is good to talk to. He seems to let people share their ideas without sticking his opinions in. In that way he is a lot like Slim. In fact, within Crooks' room, Lennie seems to command the same kind of respect that Slim commands within the bunk house. People sort of circle around him.

When Lennie first walks in, Crooks is angry about this "invasion" of his privacy. He says Lennie has no right to be there. The use of the word "right" seems to fit in with one of the books on Crooks' shelf, the California civil code of 1905. Why is that date significant? Perhaps it represents the time when Crooks' father was a landowner and a respected person. Crooks' calling for his rights also echoes similar cries from blacks in the
U.S. in the 1930s and since.

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