Curley’s wife is a strong indicator of what long periods of loneliness can do to embitter the mind and cause vindictive and resentful behaviour towards others, especially Crooks who is her only outlet. Crooks, the farms resident stable buck, represents the marginalisation of black men and women in the 1920s and 30s, and embodies the effects of what continual isolation can have upon a man. The reader is first introduced to Crooks when Lennie stumbles into his room in the barn where Crooks is attempting to rub ointment onto his crooked back.
This is indicative of the workers’ hostile feelings towards him, that he must endure this pain without any offerings of help or assistance from his compatriots. Crooks’ life was not always so lonely; upon meeting Lennie he begins to reminisce of his childhood days when he was able to meet and play with white boys (“and some of them was pretty nice”), before they learnt the prejudice and hatred of their generation. Steinbeck is commenting on racism, highlighting the needless ruin of a man’s life for simply being different.
However, in his isolation from the world and all within it Crooks has grown contemptuous and resentful towards others; he seizes Lennie’s attachment to George and carefully implants the idea of abandonment into his mind and revels in its effects (“Crooks’ face lighted with pleasure in his torture”). Steinbeck does draw a parallel between them, as if Crooks sees his own childlike innocence in Lennie, and the fragility of his situation and friendship with George; that one moment he can be happy and content with the world, and the next staring down the barrel of seemingly endless and lonely existence.
Crooks feeds on Lennies despair like a tonic for his own existence, as if he could transfer his feelings of loneliness to another and thereby free himself. One of the most powerful sentiments in the book is Crooks’ assertion “I tell ya, a guy gets too lonely, an’ he gets sick”, which tells of the beginnings of Crooks’ descent into madness. In an attempt to shield himself from the continual suffering of his own incarceration his mind is slowly retreating into fantasy and hallucination. Though underneath all his bitterness and self-pity Crooks is still a good man (“I didn’t mean to scare you.
He’ll come back. I was talkin’ about myself”), he is robbed of his last vestiges of hope after Curley’s wife’s vicious attack, (“Crooks had reduced himself to nothing”). This has left him in a “reduced” state, forced to submit his entire individuality to stay alive. Candy is an aging and handicapped farm worker who represents the effects age and infirmity have upon the poor working class in an unequal 1930s society. Candy is perhaps the most pitiable character in the book, as his age and bodily limitations frequently inhibit his ability to defend or look after himself.
This is demonstrated when his pet dog, who was his only real friend, was killed by Carlson when it was decided that its smell was to revolting to bear any longer. This was achieved, with the help of Slim, by the use of peer pressure and the offering of an inducement in the form of a replacement puppy. The fact that Carlson has orchestrated the event so carefully with prior calculation to achieve his desired goal shows his selfishness. That he does not suggest a compromise – such as forbidding the dog to enter the bunkhouse – shows his contempt for Candy’s feelings.
This selfishness is typical of the younger generation in this novel, and is best illustrated by the farm workers’ card game, whilst all the time refusing to acknowledge Candy’s suffering or attempting to comfort him. The deliberate timing of the event, when he was surrounded by other people, was Carlson’s way of asserting control and appealing to the presumed allegiance of everyone in the room to appear more authoritative when talking to Candy. In this way we see that people often need the support of other like-minded people before they feel comfortable asserting their opinions.