Theme Of Racism In Of Mice And Men

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Of Mice and Men is a novella written by Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck. Published in 1937, it tells the tragic story of George Milton and Lennie Small, two displaced migrant ranch workers, who move from place to place in search of new job opportunities during the Great Depression in California, USA. Based on Steinbeck’s own experiences as a migrant worker in the 1920s, the title is taken from Robert Burns’ poem “To a Mouse”, which read: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley.” (The best laid schemes of mice and men / often go awry.)

The Life and Times of John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck was born in 1902 in Salinas, near the coast of California, 40 km north of the region that became the setting for Of Mice and Men.
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From Delaware to California, and from North Dakota to Texas, many states (and cities, too) could impose legal punishments on people for consorting with members of another race. The most common types of laws forbade intermarriage and ordered business owners and public institutions to keep their black and white clientele separated. In Of Mice and Men, the theme of racism is expressed throughout by the character Crooks. The treatment of Crooks is both interesting and startling to a modern reader: he has some social contract with the rest of the ranch workers but is still persecuted by them for being black. In the routinely racist world of 1930s California, Crooks’ colour is his defining feature, as Candy explains, ‘Ya see the stable buck’s a nigger’. However, he follows this definition with an additional description of how he is a ‘nice fella’. We also learn that he was accepted into the men’s game of horseshoes, where he shoes proficiency, yet is entirely isolated in his stable room for the rest of the time. He is described as an ‘aloof’ man with ‘pain tightened lips’ connoting the harsh life of silence and deprivation he has had to endure. Finally, the racism in the novel is driven home dramatically when Curley’s wife expresses how she could ‘get [Crooks] strung up on a tree so easy it ‘ain’t even funny’. Afterwards, what little hope of Crooks fulfilling his American Dream with George and Lennie has been extinguished, showing he has no rights at all on the
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