Sexism In Mice and Men

In the novella, Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck, there are two types of characters. There are the powerful and the powerless characters, with the powerless constantly being discriminated against, by the powerful and societal standards. The powerless characters are all different and are discriminated against for different things, but the one thing that they have in common is that they aren’t completely accepted by society.

Out of the three characters, Crooks without a doubt recieves the most discrimination for being a colored man. When Lennie is left alone with Crooks after crushing Curley’s hand, Crooks explains to him that, “Cause I’m black. They play cards in there, but I can’t play because I’m black, They say I stink”(68).

Along with the fact that Crooks is discriminated against enough by being kept in a separate room than everyone, he isn’t allowed to hang out with the other workers either simply because of his race. Considering that all the workers have similar savings, the supplies they have to keep themselves clean are probably all the same, and yet they make up the excuse of Crooks smelling bad to keep him from doing something as simple as playing cards with them. This quote blatantly shows that Crooks is segregated from the rest of the whites solely because of his skin color.

Even with Crooks not being able to casually hang out with the other workers, people who are higher in social class openly threaten his life, for him speaking is mind. After Crooks lashes out at Curley’s wife for barging into his room, she gets angered and says,”’Well you keep your place then, n****r. I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny’”(81).

Curley’s wife seems like she wouldn’t be used to getting talked like that by someone who was racially inferior, so she puts him back in his place by telling him to “keep his place,” which means that he should show respect for her because he’s a black man and she’s a white woman. Along with that, she makes a not too subtle threat to have him killed if he steps out of line again. Along with showing which characters have and don’t have power, this also shows that the people in power had no regard for the lives of the people under them or any respect for them, whether it was because of race or gender. Similar to Crooks, Curley’s wife is greatly discriminated against by the workers because she is a woman.

After Lennie and George get to the ranch, and they meet Candy, they talk about Curley’s wife saying:  “Well, I think Curley’s married . . . a tart.”(28).

What the men do not know is that Curley’s wife is just incredibly lonely, once having dreamt to be a star, and marrying Curley after the failure of that dream. She is all alone in the secluded world of the ranch. Having a husband who pays no attention to her, she tries to find someone to talk to among the men in the ranch, dressing provocatively for that reason only. Unfortunately, the combination of misunderstanding and their knowledge of only one type of woman, the kind they encounter at whore houses drives the men away from Curley’s wife.

Along with having the workers insult her behind her back, people are also scared to talk to her because of fear that she will cause trouble. In Chapter 5, when Lennie explains how he accidentally killed his pup and tells Curley’s wife that George doesn’t want him talking to her, she says,”’Wha’s the matter with me?’ she cried. ‘Ain’t I got the right to talk to nobody? Whatta they think I am, anyway’”(87)

Curley’s wife is oppressed and discriminated against due to her femininity in the specific time period. She is not respected as she is thought of as a minority, so she uses her sexuality to get the attention of the other men as she wishes for recognition. This gives her the reputation of a troublemaker and is called discriminatory names by the men on the ranch. While readers say that she is just an unfaithful wife who likes to play around, she can also be seen as a victim of the cruel society that she lives in. Steinbeck incorporated examples of racism and sexism into the book to show how society worked during the Great Depression, but along with this, he also included examples of ableism with Lennie.

While Crooks represents racism, and Curley’s wife represents sexism, one of the most important characters in the novel, Lennie, represents ableism and is discriminated against for being mentally ill. In the book, there is a scene in the beginning where George is talking to Lennie, who has a mental disability and he explains how he cannot hold his own work card as he says: “Now, look-I’ll give him the work tickets, but you ain’t gonna say a word. You jus’ stand there and don’t say nothing. If he finds out what a crazy bastard you are, we won’t get no job, but if he sees ya work before he hears you talk, we’re set. Ya got that?”(6).

You can clearly see how George suppresses Lennie’s right to freedom of speech because Lennie is mentally ill and George doesn’t want him to mess up his chance to get a job. It could be said that George is treating Lennie like a pet, and keeps him in control by suppressing him freedom and ability to do things. This is obviously a form of discrimination seeing as George won’t let Lennie do anything of his own will, even something as simple as carrying his own work card. A point that could be made from this quote is that the rights of the characters who are discriminated against depend on those with power.