This chapter begins with the description of a place; this time, it is Crooks' room in the stable. Crooks, the black stable hand, lives by himself in the harness room, a shed attached to the barn. Injured when a horse kicked him, Crooks has a body that is bent to the left because of his crooked spine. The stable hand has many horse care items in his room, as well as personal belongings he keeps because he is a more permanent tenant. Besides shoes, a clock, and a shotgun, Crooks also has a dictionary, a battered book of the California legal code, magazines, a few dirty books, and a pair of spectacles. Crooks' room is a source of pride, and he keeps it quite neat.
Crooks' room is a masterpiece of understatement, and its very nature shows how Crooks is different from the other ranch hands. Much of the room is filled with boxes, bottles, harnesses, leather tools, and other accouterments of his job. It is a room for one man alone. But scattered about on the floor are his personal possessions, accumulated because, unlike the other workers, he stays in this job. He has gold-rimmed spectacles to read (reading, after all, is a solitary experience). His pride and his self-respect are obvious from the neat, swept condition of his room. In his conversations are both the reality of accepting his solitary position and his anger at this condition. Candy, while around the place all the time, has never been in Crooks' room. The stable hand is not allowed in the bunkhouse because he is black. When he has an opportunity to wield some power of his own and hurt someone else as he has been hurt, Crooks takes the opportunity by picking on Lennie. But then sensing Lennie's fear and power, he backs down.
Through the description of Crook's room, his past life, and his current existence on the ranch, Chapter 4 continues Steinbeck's themes of loneliness, barriers between people, and the powerlessness of the little guy in a huge world. Crooks describes his solitary life in terms of all the workers. He shares with Curley's wife the problem of no one with whom to talk. When Lennie questions him about the pups, Crooks changes the subject and mentions, "I seen it over an' over — a guy talkin' to another guy and it don't make no difference if he don't hear or understand. The thing is, they're talkin', or they're settin' still not talkin' … It's just bein' with another guy. That's all." Crooks can relate to the loneliness of the ranch hands. He goes back to his room and reads alone. "Sure you could play horseshoes till it got dark, but then you got to read books. Books ain't no good. A guy needs somebody — to be near him … . A guy goes nuts if he ain't got nobody. Don't make no difference who the guy is, long's he's with you … . I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an' he gets sick."
Crooks' loneliness is part of Steinbeck's microcosm of the world. Multiply Crooks a million times, and Steinbeck is pointing out the barriers and artificial obstacles people and society build against each other. Adding to Crooks' sense of powerlessness is his position, which is made clear by Curley's wife when she breaks up their little gathering. When Crooks tries to get her to leave because her presence is sure to cause trouble, she tells him, "Well, you keep your place then, Nigger. I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain't even funny." Crooks knows that she is absolutely correct; in fact, once she uses her position as Curley's white wife as a weapon, Crooks dissolves into nothingness. Steinbeck describes him growing smaller, pressing himself against the wall, and trying to avoid the hurt. As Steinbeck states, "Crooks had retired into the terrible protective dignity of the Negro." Candy with his old age, Lennie with his retardation, Crooks with his race, Curley's wife with her gender: all are victims of the attitudes and prejudices of society.
Crooks is not only a realist about his position in society, but he is also prophetic about George and Lennie's dream. Like the many other migrants he has seen come and go, Crooks tells Candy that he has never seen one realize their dream for land. The reason they do not get the land is stated clearly by Crooks and echoed by Curley's wife. Crooks explains, "I seen guys nearly crazy with loneliness for land, but ever' time a whorehouse or a blackjack game took what it takes." This pronouncement is played out in Whit's and the rest of the hands' behavior on Saturday night: All have gone into town. They never see beyond the end of the week. Curley's wife reinforces this idea when she tells them "If you had two bits in the worl', why you'd be in gettin' two shots of corn with it and suckin' the bottom of the glass. I know you guys."
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