"That ranch we're goin' to is right down there about a quarter mile. We're gonna go in an' see the boss. Now, look—I'll give him the work tickets, but you ain't gonna say a word. You jus' stand there and don't say nothing. If he finds out what a crazy bastard you are, we won't get no job, but if he sees ya work before he hears ya talk, we're set." (1.44)
Lennie may be a good worker, but is it really discrimination not to want to hire a "crazy bastard," or is it just good sense? We think it might just be good sense.
George patted a wrinkle out of his bed, and sat down. "[The boss gave] the stable buck hell?" he asked.
"Sure. Ya see the stable buck's a n*****."
"Yeah. Nice fella too. Got a crooked back where a horse kicked him. The boss gives him hell when he's mad. But the stable buck don't give a damn about that. He reads a lot. Got books in his room." (2.15-17)
Prejudice keeps Crooks isolated—but, by telling us that he "read a lot," Steinbeck seems to be suggesting that there's more to him than just skin color. It's a shame that none of the other characters—except maybe Lennie—seem to see that.
"Yes sir. Jesus, we had fun. They let the n***** come in that night. Little skinner name of Smitty took after the n*****. Done pretty good, too. The guys wouldn't let him use his feet, so the n***** got him. If he coulda used his feet, Smitty says he woulda killed the n*****. The guys said on account of the n*****'s got a crooked back, Smitty can't use his feet." He paused in relish of the memory. (2.22)
Yikes. This is hard to read, but—to be fair to Candy—he seems to be "relishing" the fight as a fight, and not just because it involves a crippled black man. (We will point out that he doesn't ever use Crooks' name, however.)
She turned on him in scorn. "Listen, N*****," she said. "You know what I can do to you if you open your trap?"
Crooks stared hopelessly at her, and then he sat down on his bunk and drew into himself. (4.116-117)
The only thing worse than being a woman on the ranch is being a black man. But Curley's wife doesn't feel any solidarity with Crooks: she just sees him as the one guy she can pick on instead of try to pick up.
Candy leaned against the wall beside the broken collar while he scratched his wrist stump. "I been here a long time," he said. "An' Crooks been here a long time. This's the first time I ever been in his room."
Crooks said darkly, "Guys don't come into a colored man's room very much." (4.76-77)
Prejudice works both ways: Crooks may be isolated because of his skin color, but the white guys might also be missing out on a good friend. (And, we have to ask: do you think Steinbeck is making a point by having the black man speak "darkly"? Too much of a stretch?)
"…You go on get outta my room. I ain’t wanted in the bunk house, and you ain’t wanted in my room."
"Why ain’t you wanted?" Lennie asked.
"’Cause I’m black…" (4.10-11)
Lennie can’t fathom racial prejudice. We’ve already seen he doesn’t have a lot of the societal niceties down (like when to pet girls and when not to pet girls), but it’s actually pretty interesting that Lennie doesn’t think of Crooks as being different from himself. Remember, Lennie is more in touch with the natural side of things than the "civilized" side of things, so he doesn’t accept the "institution" of racism.
Crooks "This is just a n***** talkin', an' a busted-back n*****. So it don't mean nothing, see?" (4.39)
In the world of the ranch, there are a lot of disadvantages to being crippled, black, mentally handicapped, or female. But, Crooks slyly points out, there are some advantages, too: no one holds you responsible for your actions. Whatever you say, "it don't mean nothing." Good point, but we're still not sure it's worth it.