dis/lit

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Mary Wilson’s Formal Blog Post on Of Mice and Men

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“Crooks said, “I didn’t mean to scare you.  He’ll come back.  I was talkin’ about myself.  A guy sets alone here at night, maybe reading books or thinking or stuff like that.  Sometimes he gets thinking, and he got nothing to tell him what’s so and what ain’t so.  Maybe if he sees something, he don’t know whether it’s right or not.  He can’t turn to some other guy and ast him if he sees it too.  He can’t tell. He got nothing to measure by.””

In Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck creates a situation in which his disabled characters, Lennie and Crooks, are able to connect with one another by sharing past experiences and future ambitions.  By juxtaposing Lennie, a cognitively disabled character, with Crooks, who is considered physically and racially abnormal, Steinbeck offers a perspective on disability which, while laden with certain stereotypes such as infantilization and the evocation of pity, is somewhat progressive in nature.
Cleary, the characterization of Lennie during the Crooks encounter heavily relies upon infantilization.  For instance, while Crooks explains his past to Lennie in a pessimistic style, Lennie seems too fixated upon his dreams and future aspirations about owning land/raising rabbits to directly respond.  While this frustrates Crooks initially, he soon finds comfort in the fact that he could tell Lennie anything and he “wouldn’t remember it anyways.”  Interestingly, while Lennie is infantilized, his child-like mind creates trustworthiness of character.  This is a direct contrast to the prevailing societal view of the cognitively disabled at the time, which was that they are somehow spiritually deviant and not to be trusted.  Thus, while Steinbeck’s infantilization of Lennie is somewhat problematic because of its stereotypical nature, it can also be seen as progressive due to how it enables his character to gain the trust of others, particularly Crooks.
Steinbeck also employs the evocation of pity during the scene between Crooks and Lennie.  For example, when Crooks initially decides to play with Lennie and asks him to suppose what might happen to George during his absence, Lennie’s dramatic and emotional response evokes sympathy from the audience, who also fears what Lennie’s future may hold without George to protect and care for him.  Crooks then goes on to elaborate on his past and current situations,  both of which display themes of  isolation and loneliness that serve to evoke pity.  It is noteworthy that while the pity felt for Lenny stems mainly from his co-dependency on another, the pity that readers feel for Crooks is the result of his complete independence from others.  This juxtaposition, then,  is somewhat enabling in that it shows how the disabled can not be uniformly pitied for any one particular reason.
A final important aspect of the interaction between Lennie and Crooks occurs when Crooks explains how the loneliness he experiences causes him to question his reality.  As illustrated in the quote above, Crooks often sees or hears things that he is unable to determine the origin or nature of due to the fact that he has no companions to offer their viewpoints.  This situation, while clearly evoking pity from readers, also calls into question the origins of mental disability itself.  While Crooks’ physical disability is evidently not created by society (or lack thereof), his mental well-being has clearly degraded as a result of confinement.  As seen in other readings, such as Jane Eyre and The Yellow Wallpaper, the experience of isolation causes madness in the character that otherwise may not have developed.  Crooks’ story, then, offers an extremely progressive view on mental disability as a disease which is not only socially constructed, but often socially created.

Written by mwilson11

October 8th, 2010 at 11:38 am

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