Certainly Lennie's character is portrayed as marginal due to his mental disability and Candy's advanced age and his missing limb push him to the margins of society as well. Crooks, the "stable buck", is marginalized because he is black and also disabled. In each of these cases the normal characters, such as Slim, Carlson, Curly and his wife, exercise an unquestioned power and influence over the abnormal characters within the story. While Lennie seems to be the most obvious victim of these cruel standards, Steinbeck appears to suggest that all are victims of this society and its prejudices and racism.
Crooks serves as both character and symbol, of California's ranch culture. At different times Steinbeck portrays Crooks in dehumanizing terms, as "the nigger," not the man. The ranch employees casually refer to Crooks as the nigger using this derogatory name with an ease that suggests they do not consider it offensive or insulting. Yet Steinbeck also uses Crooks to critique the racism that has shaped his life. Steinbeck seems to use Crooks as literary device to illustrate the quietly hostile and impersonal mentality of the culture in which George and Lennie live. An introductory exchange between George and Candy in which they try to determine the ranch owner's personality based on his treatment of Crooks illustrates this. Candy explains some of the boss' qualities to George and Lennie:
T"He was sure burned when you wasn't here this morning. Come
right in when we was eatin' breakfast and says, 'Where the hell's
the new men' An' he give the Stable Buck hell, too."
George patted a wrinkle out of his bed, and sat down. "Gave the
Stable Buck hell" he asked.
"Sure. Ya see the stable buck's a nigger."
"Yeah, nice fella too" (Steinbeck, 1994, p. 20)
This exchange illustrates the complicated role of race painted by Steinbeck in this society/culture. Candy can on one hand see it as perfectly normal/acceptable for the boss to abuse Crooks because of his race. Simultaneously Candy comments that he likes Crooks, but does not find this racist paradox at all problematic. None of the men seem to dislike Crooks but neither do they refer to him by his name or allow him into the bunkhouse. Only Slim ever addresses Crooks by his name, supposing, of course that Crooks is not just an unkind reference to his crooked back. In other words, Crooks is victimized due to his race.
Crooks is shown to have little or no control over his life, he is the frequent target of racial slurs and physical and mental assaults. Just like Candy's old dog, Crooks has very little control over his fate; both are at the mercy of the whims of the ranchers. This treatment of Crooks helps characterize the harshness of both the people on this ranch and the culture of ranch life in general. A small verbal exchange in the third chapter illustrates the rigid nature of these people and this place. George is in the bunkhouse playing cards with Whit and the discussion turns to Curly's wife.
Whit laid down his cards impressively. "Well stick around an' keep your eyes open. You'll see plenty. She ain't concealin' nothing. I never seen nobody like her. She got the eye goin' all the time on everybody. I bet she even gives the stable buck the eye. I don't know what the hell she wants." (p. 50)
Steinbeck reveals the pervasive racism and sexism of this culture through Whit's suggestion that flirting with Crooks is the most offensive act possible. Indeed, sexism and racism