A l’ouest rien de nouveau

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Erich Maria Remarque

Section 4

Section four begins with Lennie and Crooks having a conversation in the harness room of the barn and ends after Crooks is threatened by Curley’s wife.

The next night after the altercation between Curley and Lennie, the black stable hand Crooks is spending time alone on his bed in the harness room of the barn. Crooks is described as being socially cold and spends a lot of time alone in his space doing quiet activities, such as reading. He is physically characterized by a crooked back, hence leading to his nickname, “Crooks.” After spending time tending to his new pup, Lennie wanders to the doorway of the harness room, where Crooks is situated. Lennie is lonely and looking for some company, but Crooks initially is resistant and tells Lennie to go away. Crooks says to Lennie that since he cannot enter the bunkhouse because of his black skin color, then Lennie should not be permitted to be in Crooks room because he is white. This all is ignored, as Lennie does not have the mental capacity to understand the comparison being made by Crooks. Lennie innocently goes on to tell Crooks that all of the other workers had gone into town for the evening and that Lennie noticed the light on in Crooks’s room and wanted to come and visit with him. Crooks, who is feeling lonely himself, then invites Lennie in, realizing that he is no threat.

As Lennie is conversing with Crooks, he begins to talk freely and openly about the plans he and George have to leave the ranch and have their own dream farm, which directly disobeys George’s wishes not to share the plans with anyone. These musings are dismissed by Crooks initially, who assumes that all this talk is just ranting due to Lennie’s mental handicap. At this point, Crooks provides some of his personal background from his childhood, indicating that he grew up in an area where his was the only black family, and he was warned by his father never to spend time with the white kids in the neighborhood. This resulted in him feeling alone and isolated, which he feels again as an adult experiencing separation from his white neighbors on the ranch.

The marginalization and alienation felt by Crooks is transferred and projected onto Lennie through Crooks’s behavior toward him. Crooks’s feelings of disempowerment lead him cruelly to tell Lennie that George is never coming back and that he has abandoned Lennie. This cruel prank brings a sense of enjoyment to Crooks, making him feel dominant over Lennie, whom he perceives as weaker than him. This makes Lennie angry, and he demands to know where George is and who may have hurt George. Sensing impending danger if the prank went any further, Crooks assures Lennie that George is fine and that he will return to the ranch and to Lennie. In response to Lennie’s talk about future plans on the idyllic farm, Crooks at first blows him off, indicating that he has heard these sorts of plans time and time again from workers at the ranch and that they never become a reality.

Next, Candy appears at the door to the harness room, and Crooks allows him to enter the room, as well. This is the first time Candy had ever stepped foot in Crooks’s room in the many years that he had been employed at the ranch. This makes both of the men a little uncomfortable, but the respect shown by Candy toward Crooks and his space is noticed and appreciated. In addition, all of the men are lonely and are content to have some pleasant company. Unable to contain his eagerness, Candy begins to talk to Lennie about their plans for the farm and indicates that he thinks he knows how their future farm could make an income from raising rabbits, which is pleasing to Lennie. Crooks is still dismissive of the idea until Candy tells him that the men already have the land picked out and the funds necessary to purchase it. Crooks’s attitude toward the idea then shifts, and when he realizes that this could actually become a reality, he indicates interest in joining the men on the farm.

As the three men daydream about a future idyllic life on a beautiful farm, Curley’s wife appears in the doorway. She inquires about Curley, as she often does, and remarks that she knows that all of the workers went to town to a brothel, leaving the “weak ones” back at the ranch. Candy and Crooks do not appreciate her coming around, and they both tell her that she should leave. Instead of leaving, she begins to speak about how unhappy, lonely she is, and how she finds her marriage to be very unfulfilling. One again, Candy sternly tells her that she needs to leave. He also tells her that it does not even matter if she tried to get them fired because the men have the means to purchase their own farm on which they could live. Finding this information highly improbable, Curley’s wife laughs at the idea. She then goes on to complain more about her life and her marriage. Although she has sought out the company of the three men at this moment, she feels she is above them, better than them, and feels the fact that she is conversing with the likes of weak men to be quite deplorable. Turning the topic of conversation back to Curley, she asks the three men how Curley injured his hand, and they tell her that it was from a machinery accident. She does not believe the men and turns to Lennie, asking about the wounds on his face. She then figures out that an altercation between Lennie and Curley caused her husband’s hand to be crushed.

At this point, the men have had just about enough of Curley’s wife’s antics, and Crooks demands that she leave or else he will report to the boss regarding the misbehavior she is constantly up to. She responds to Crooks by threatening him with the power she has to have him severely hurt, potentially killed, if he says anything about her to anyone. Crooks takes this threat seriously and backs down. In a final attempt to get her to leave, Candy says that he thinks he hears the workers returning from their outing in the city, which is successful. On her way out, Curley’s wife tells Lennie that she is happy that he busted up her husband’s hand. George enters the doorway of the harness room and learns that Candy had been talking to Crooks about their plans to purchase a farm. This irritates George, and he tells Candy once again not to talk about their plans with anyone else. As George, Lennie, and Candy leave Crooks’s room, Crooks says, “I wouldn’t want to go no place like that,” indicating his disinterest in joining the three white men on the farm.

Throughout section four, the reader becomes better acquainted with Crooks, a character who up to this point had limited presentation. Crooks share many similarities with the other men on the ranch, including loneliness. However, the loneliness experienced by Crooks may be due in large part to the isolation he is subjected to on the ranch because of his skin color. Since he is black, Crooks is segregated from the other ranch hands and is required to stay alone in a room in the barn. Furthermore, he is not allowed to be in the bunkhouse with the other men, and is never invited to join the men for a friendly game of cards or for outings into the city.

One of the main purposes of the novella is for the reader to explore how society blatantly and inadvertently exploits and takes advantage of the weak in a predatory manner in order to benefit those who are perceived as stronger. Crooks’s skin color is conceptualized by Steinbeck as a “weakness” that marks him as inferior to the others, and he is therefore marginalized because of it. The others on the ranch can use the color of Crooks’ skin to demoralize and disempower him, which is evident in the threats Curley’s wife makes toward Crooks at the end of the section.

The complexity and dynamism of Crooks’s character makes him believable to the reader, exhibiting qualities that are entirely human. For example, he writes off the plans that the men have for buying their own farm, but then asks if he can join them once he feels that they might be legitimate. Furthermore, Crooks expresses bitterness about his isolation from the other men through his initial reaction to Lennie showing up in his doorway. However, he is in fact happy and thankful to have the opportunity to have some company. Furthermore, although he appreciates the company of Lennie, he perceives Lennie as weak and responds by cruelly telling lies to Lennie for his own pleasure.

Overall, the predation-ridden world occupied by the workers on the ranch is exemplified further through the behavior and actions of Crooks. Essentially, a hierarchy based on strength is demonstrated, wherein the weak are preyed upon and taken advantage of by the strong, and those considered weak prey upon those that are still even weaker. This tragic and dark view of humanity only serves to increase the loneliness and isolation of those who are already disadvantaged, because instead of supporting each other and banding together, the weak are driven further into separation. On the ranch, it is every man for himself, and the only way to gain an advantage is through domination of the weak. Curley’s wife illustrates this concept in the way she points out the weaknesses of the three men in Crooks’s room, labeling them as “a nigger an’ a dum-dum and a lousy ol’ sheep.” These perceptions of the men held by Curley’s wife reflect how the men are viewed and discriminated against by society as a whole. However, just like the three men in that room, Curley’s wife is weak due to her gender, and in the context of her marriage and the ranch, she is plagued with loneliness and discontent. This is another example in the story of the weak attacking the weak in order to build themselves up to some sort of false advantage.

Section 5

Section 5 takes place from when Lennie sits in the barn stroking the dead pup to Curley rounding up a lynch mob to track down Lennie and kill him for killing his wife.

The next afternoon, Lennie is in the barn where he had accidently killed his puppy. He sits on a pile of hay and strokes the dead pup, all the while asking the puppy why it had to die. He was perplexed because a puppy is much bigger than a mouse, and he felt that he did not play with the puppy in a rough manner. Lennie’s main concern is that when George finds out that he killed the puppy, he will no longer be allowed to tend the rabbits on their dream farm. He does not know what else to do, so he begins to pile hay on top of the dead puppy. Lennie thinks about telling George that he found the puppy dead when he came into the barn, but then he realizes that George will know that he is not telling the truth. Out of anger and frustration, Lennie takes the puppy and throws it across the barn. Feeling bad for this behavior, Lennie picks up the dead puppy again and resumes petting it, thinking that George just might not be upset with him for killing the pup since he had no attachment to it.

As Lennie sits stroking the dead pup, Curley’s wife enters the barn and sits down beside him on the hay. Lennie quickly hides the pup and bluntly tells Curley’s wife that George had given him clear instructions to not talk to her or have anything to do with her. She dismisses Lennie’s requests to not talk, and proceeds to convince Lennie that it is ok to talk to her and that they will not be interrupted because all of the other men are distracted outside playing horseshoes. After noticing the dead puppy, she consoles Lennie and tries, somewhat unsuccessfully, to make him feel better by stating that there are lots of other mutts around, implying that the pup was disposable and that he could replace it with no problem. She transitions into turning the conversation back toward her, complaining again, about how she is lonely and not treated well by the workers on the ranch. She expresses her desire to live a different life from the one she is. She talks about missed opportunities for fame and fortune due to her mother not allowing her to be a performer in a traveling show. She also explains how she was once promised by a man that he would make her a movie star, which never came to fruition. After all, of these failed attempts at achieving her dreams, she instead settles for marrying Curley, a man whom she does not even particularly care for.

Curley’s wife listens to Lennie talk about how he is going to tend rabbits on the farm that he and George will own. She questions Lennie about his love for animals and why he cares about them so much, to which Lennie simply replies that he likes to touch soft things. Curley’s wife tells him that she also enjoys soft things, and indicates that her hair is soft and invites him to touch it. Concerned with her appearance, she asks Lennie to not make her hair into a mess, but like Lenny always does when he strokes things that are soft, he gets overly excited and grabs her hair too tightly, not letting go. This scares Curley’s wife, and she screams out in fear. Her screams put Lennie into a panic, and he reacts by closing his huge hands over her mouth to try to quiet her. His grip on her mouth becomes increasingly tighter the more she struggles against him, and Lennie finally shakes her violently until her neck breaks and there is no life is left in her body. Lennie lets go of her body and realizes that just like his young puppy, he has also killed Curley’s wife. Just like the dead pup, he tries to bury her body underneath some hay, motivated mostly out of concern that he will get into trouble with George because of what he has done. Lennie decides that the best thing for him to do at this point is flee the ranch. He scoops up the dead pup’s corpse and takes it with him as he leaves the ranch toward the clearing that George had designated as their meeting place if either of them were to get into any trouble.

As Candy comes into the barn looking for Lennie, he comes across the body of Curley’s wife. Candy quickly summons George into the barn, and immediately he knew exactly what had happened. Unrealistically, George says to Candy how he hopes that Lennie would just be locked away and treated humanely instead of being hurt or even worse. Candy replies to this notion with the statement that Curley is sure to get a group of men after Lennie to end his life. Candy still wants to buy the dream farm with George and asks him if the two of them can still do it. With a hopeless look on his face, George says he knew the dream of owning a farm would never turn into a reality, and he only started to believe in it slightly because of the excitement and hope that the thought it brought to Lennie.

Out of concern that Curley and the other workers might suspect that he was involved in the killing, he tells Candy to call the other workers into the barn to show them the body after George has left, and then George would come in and act surprised by the find. As George leaves the barn, Candy expresses his disdain for Curley’s wife and how it is her fault that their dreams of having their own farm have been shattered. With tears of grief over the loss of a dream rather than the loss of a life, Candy reports the incident to the other workers. The workers all gather in the barn, and George is the last to come in. In response to finding his wife’s dead body, Curley demands that all of the men band together in a search for Lennie and then kill him when he is found. All they need now is a gun, but when Carl

Carlson goes to retrieve his firearm, he reports that it has been stolen, and he suspects that Lennie has taken it with him. Instead, Curley directs the men to get Crooks’s shotgun, and the group of men begins their search for Lennie.

Section 5 begins with recognition of the tone with which this part of the story opens. It begins abruptly after Lennie has accidently killed his puppy, and he is holding the dead corpse in his hands. Like the opening of the story, in which Lennie is caught by George holding and stroking a dead mouse, Lennie now holds and pets his dead pup. Lennie is mostly concerned about how this is going to affect the realization of the dream that he and George share of owning a farm, knowing that what he has done could get him into trouble and that he might not be allowed to tend rabbits. The reader feels the hope and optimism from the sense of freedom provided by the dream begin to slip away. The ominous tone and sense of impending doom in this scene continues as Curley’s wife enters and sits down with Lennie even though he urges her not to, knowing that he is supposed to avoid her so as not to get into any trouble.

Through her exchange with George in the barn, the reader gains more insight into Curley’s wife’s character and begins to sympathize with her since she is exposed as being as fragile, weak, and vulnerable as everyone else on the ranch. The reader gets to know her as more than a “tart” or a “tramp.” Curley’s wife reveals to Lennie that she also has dreams of a life beyond the one she exists in at the ranch married to Curley, which is characterized by loneliness. Her persistent dream involves becoming a movie star, and like the two men’s dream of the idyllic farm, her dream has remained with her to provide hope despite her actual circumstances.

Curley’s wife sees Lennie as an excellent confidant and proceeds to confide to him her discontent in her marriage to Curley and how she is a lonely woman with unfulfilled dreams. She knows that Lennie most likely cannot fully understand what she confesses to him, which makes him a worthy listener because of his inability to pass judgment on her. Crooks also felt this way about Lennie in their previous conversation in the harness room, stating how Lennie is a good person with whom to have a conversation. Since Curley’s wife still perceives Lennie to be weaker than her due to his mental incapacity, she does not recognize the physical threat he poses. This results in her allowing Lennie to stroke her hair, which leads to her tragic death at the hands of Lennie. Her corpse is described by Steinbeck as “pretty and simple … sweet and young,” which are the most positive terms used to describe her or any female in the story up to this point. Steinbeck may be implying through this that the troublemaking, tempestuous nature of women can only be overcome through death, when they are finally restored to innocence. This misogynistic portrayal of women by Steinbeck remains consistent throughout the story.

The end of this section marks a turning point of realization for George. After discovering the unthinkable act performed by Lennie, George wakes up to the bleak reality that his dreams with Lennie will never happen. George also realizes that he must take it upon himself to right the wrongs that Lennie has committed, since he has been and always will be responsible for Lennie and his behavior. This realization is difficult and painful for George, since he knows the gravity of situation at hand. There are parallels between this part of the story and the scene in which Carlson urges Candy to kill his old, useless dog. Just as Slim did in the scene with the dog, he suggests that most appropriate approach at this point would be to end Lennie’s life—essentially to put him out of his own misery just like the old dog. George knows that he must be the one to kill Lennie, as it will be better than letting Curley and the other men kill him in a disrespectful manner, stripping Lennie of all dignity. The hope idealized through the dream of life on a peaceful farm is clung to by Candy, but George, amid a pall of gloomy realism, knows that dreams are futile in a world that is cold, bleak, and without mercy for the weak.

Section 6

This section takes place from when Lennie arrives at the clearing until the end of the novella.

The setting of the story comes full circle as Lennie returns to the beautiful clearing. It is a calm afternoon as a heron eats water snakes as it stands in a pool in the shade. Lennie approaches the water and kneels down to take a drink, feeling content with himself for remembering to return to the clearing, and he awaits George’s arrival. Lennie has two distinct visions as he waits here for George. First, a vision of his Aunt Clara appears to him, reprimanding Lennie for not staying out of trouble as George had asked him to and for being such a problem and a burden to the man that is his one and only friend. The voice speaking to Lennie in the vision is his own voice.

The next vision that Lennie has is that of an unrealistically huge rabbit that, again in Lennie’s own voice, tells him that he will most likely be beaten up by George, who will then abandon him, leaving him to fend for himself. In the midst of this vision, George appears in the clearing, behaving uncharacteristically passively and quietly. George calmly approaches Lennie and does not scold him, even as Lennie carries on about how he deserves to be berated and should go live in a cave. George assures Lennie that he should not run away, which results in Lennie feeling more hopeful and at ease. George instead retells the story of the idyllic farm the men have dreamed about in a manner that is vacant and void of any emotion. George begins telling the story with an acknowledgment of the special bond and devotion that exists between the two of them, and how this type of relationship is rare among men. The other men from the ranch can be heard approaching in the distance, which prompts George to get on with telling the story. He instructs Lennie to remove his hat and keep his glance fixed across the river. George continues to describe to Lennie their dream farm, talking about the rabbits Lennie will tend and how he will be in a place where he will never experience cruelty ever again. Pleased with this thought, Lennie responds to George with “Let’s get that place now,” and George agrees with his request. George takes Carlson’s gun out of his jacket, lifts it up, and shoots Lennie in the back of the head. Lennie’s immense body collapses and remains still on the ground.

George throws the gun to the side and takes a seat on the bank of the river as the rest of the workers run to the clearing, having heard the gunshot. After some questioning from Carlson, George’s responses lead all of the men to believe that he got the gun out of Lennie’s hands and then shot him in the head. George seems to be in shock as grief overtakes him, and Slim guides him out of the clearing. Slim is the only one of the other men that comprehends what actually happened, and he tries to comfort George by saying, “You hadda George, I swear you hadda.” The two men exit the scene while the other men watch them, curious as to what they are talking about.

In analyzing this section of the story, it is observed that the setting takes the reader full circle back to the beginning of the story. The clearing has remained just as beautiful and idyllic as it was when the story started. Steinbeck repeats his description of many of the natural details present in at the clearing, including the mountains in the distance, the sunlight, and the shape of water snakes. One detail that is different this time, though, is how Steinbeck illustrates predation in the natural world through the description of a heron standing in the water and snatching up helpless water snakes. He is demonstrating with this analogy how the weak and unaware are always at risk of falling prey to those that are more dominant. This is a direct foreshadowing of what is about to occur as Lennie enters the scene.

At this point, the reader knows the fate of Lennie as George enters the clearing. Lennie, however, is the only one in the story that is not aware of his impending and inevitable death, which evokes sympathy from the reader. The scene between George and Lennie is permeated with a sad tone that Lennie is nonetheless affected by, as he remains contentedly unaware until his death. When George first approaches Lennie in the cleaning, he tells him that he is hungry, but his words are vacant and empty of any emotion. He quickly comforts Lennie by telling him that he is forgiven for the act he has committed and one final time retells the story of their dream farm. This final recitation marks the laying to rest of this dream they have shared, knowing it will now never come to be. He also comes to the realization that he is not better than the other workers around him. Like all of the other men, he feels that he is inferior in society and will never amount to more than what he is now. Lennie provided for George a sense of meaning and purpose, as well as a motivation to do better in life. The death of Lennie marks the death of all hope for George. The scene between George and Lennie reiterates the suggestion that an unjust world is no place for dreamers.

As the other men enter the clearing and see that Lennie has been shot by George, Slim is the only one that understands the grief that George is feeling for his friend, and he offers his condolences. On the other hand, the other men do not see the value that Lennie had as a person and think that he deserved what he got. Carlson and Candy watch Slim lead George away from the scene in bewilderment, as they do not understand the devotion and loyalty that existed in the friendship between George and Lennie. This shows how the world can be a harsh place where the weak are defeated by the strong, but this dynamic can be overpowered in a relationship through love and caring, which generally eludes comprehension.

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