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NOTE: THE SYMBOL OF THE BLACK MAN
Steinbeck was always sensitive to the plight of oppressed people, particularly migrant workers and blacks. The character of Crooks gives him an opportunity to make a statement about racial discrimination. Crooks comes from a higher background than most of the ranch hands. His father was not a Southern slave, but a California landowner. He can read, and not just the Bible. He has a dictionary and a law book on his shelf. He points out that his father didn't want him associating with whites. His father was right: through his connection with whites he has become "just a nigger." The way that Lennie changes Crooks' feelings and opinions in the next few pages seems to symbolize Steinbeck's belief that sensitive communication between blacks and whites could help break down discrimination and isolation. Insensitive treatment, such as that illustrated by Curley's wife later in the chapter, puts Crooks "back in his place." Think about these ideas as you read the dialogue in the rest of this chapter.
Have you ever taken part in a conversation where both people were talking at the same time and neither one really heard the other? That's what goes on for the next few pages. Lennie and Crooks are each talking but not listening. Lennie talks about the rabbits, while Crooks fills us in on his history.
Crooks goes rapidly through a series of opposite emotions. First he get excited just from the enjoyment of having someone to talk to. He says, "George can tell you screwy things, and it don't matter. It's just the talking. It's just bein' with another guy. That's all." Then he seems to feel jealous of George and Lennie's companionship and begins to take out on Lennie his bad feelings about his own isolation. He suggests to Lennie that George may not come back from town; he may have deserted Lennie. He presents an image that is at once frightening and foreshadowing: "They'll tie ya up with a collar, like a dog," Crooks says. When he realizes how upset Lennie is, Crooks backs down and eases Lennie's mind about George's safety and loyalty.
NOTE: LENNIE AND DOGS
Lennie is often compared or linked to animals-mice, horses, dogs, bulls. From here to end of the book, he is most often linked with dogs. Notice Crooks' comment above about the dog collar. The only two dogs we have seen so far in the book are Lennie's puppy and Candy's dog. One of these has already met a tragic end, and Lennie has been warned several times that the puppy may die if it is mistreated. You have seen that nothing good seems to happen to dogs in this book and this should prepare you for the worst to happen to Lennie.
Having gotten his anger and frustration out of his system, Crooks suddenly begins listening to what Lennie is saying about his rabbits and the dream farm. Crooks is scornful about the vision. He has seen hundreds of guys with the same dreams come and go, and they never made their dreams come true. Then Candy comes in. He is hesitant at first to enter the black man's room. Crooks pretends to be angry about another invasion, but he is really happy for the company.