English Literature (Of Mice and Men) Help marking!Watch
Explore how Steinbeck manipulates our response to Curleys Wife.
Of Mice and Men was set during the 1930s in America and is set on a ranch similar to the one that Steinbeck himself worked on. The men of the ranch were chasing the american dream of success and living off the fat of the land, but the role of the Great Depression during this period made the achievement of this even harder. Steinbeck explores the contrasting lives of women as successful in the city and subservient in the house in how women were discriminated against. Curleys wife, the main female character in Of Mice and Men, feels violated and lonely as she is being flirtatious towards them. Steinbecks title immediately hints at the marginalisation of female characters in the novella, with an immediate emphasis on the role of ‘men’. ‘Men’ refers to the population as a whole and women at the time were ‘mice’ compared to ‘men’.
Curleys wife. the main character and only female on the ranch in John Steinbeck's novella, “Of Mice and Men”. She is introduced at the beginning and in the end of the novella, her lack of judgment and flirtatiousness leads to her inevitable death at the hand of Lennie, confused and scared.
She is first introduced by Candy, the swamper, who describes her from his perspective to George and Lennie. The fact that Curleys Wife is introduced through rumours means that the reader already has biased opinions of Curleys Wife before she even enters the section. Candy mentions that she's, “got the eye” implying that she is flirtatious and evil in the hint with the fact that she flirts with other men immediately after she is stated that she is married to Curley. Already, the reader is introduced to the thought that Curleys wife is an immoral “tart” which is expanded upon her first experience, which follows shortly after.
Curleys wife is first seen in the doorway of the bunkhouse, asking about where his husband is, which is soon revealed as a weak excuse to communicate to the ranchers. She is said to be wearing a “red cotton house dress” and a pair of mules decorated with “bouquets of red ostrich feathers” emphasising her sexual presence as the red is repeatedly expressed when Curleys wife is described. It is also referred to as the colour of love and passion. In addition, the colour red could situate with danger and death. Death is foreshadowed at the end of the novella when she is killed by Lennie. Steinbeck makes us believe that Curleys wife is a dangerous person by talking to the ranchers but is just trying to make conversation as she is lonely. This makes the reader feel confused because initially we see her as nice but becomes mean throughout bits of the novella.
Further into ‘Of Mice and Men’, when Curley's wife is presented as an attention seeker when she appears into Crooks room to ask where Curley is located, she again uses a weak excuse to talk to the men. “Lennie watched her, fascinated but Candy and Crooks were scowling down away from her eyes.” Firstly, the word “scowling” implies that they’re (Crooks and Candy) unhappy at Curley's wife as she is causing trouble but they do not want any. This makes the reader feel that she is unapproachable as she is danger to the ranchers. “down away from her eyes”, tells us that they’re unable to look at her in the eyes referring her to Medusa as if they look at her eyes they will be tricked and turned into stone. “The word “down” shows how the ranchers feel superior as they’re looking down at her and making her isolated. They look away as they don’t want her attention drawn and they’re scared of what she will do.
However, as for Lennie he is “fascinated” by Curley’s wife and “watched” her as if she were an object and passively looking. There is a use of juxtaposition as when Lennie is fascinated and happy, Candy and Crooks are angry and scowling, a close of different responses. Steinbeck is trying to make us feel sympathy as she had done nothing wrong by asking where he was and only wanted to talk because she felt lonely. Although further on, she makes us feel as if she is a villain so our feelings on Curley’s wife change throughout the novella.
On the other hand, Curley’s wife is seen only as a possession of Curley rather like a trophy wife. The fact that Steinbeck writes the characters as never once mentioning her real name prevents the likeliness of her having a personal relationship with anyone on the ranch, including her husband. But through turn, her authority in that she lives in the bosses house and is married to the bosses son prevents her from building a relationship with the ranchers as she is seen as a woman of power; despite the fact that she is very low in hierarchy of the ranch, in terms of her freedom and rights. This extreme loneliness changed Curley’s wife, leading her to knock down low stature on the ranch in order to make herself feel important and authoritative.
This is linked to when she enters Crook’s room and says, “they left all the weak ones here” suggesting that she considers herself higher in stature than Crooks, Candy and Lennie even though she is displayed as so unimportant that Steinbeck does not even dignify her with a name. When she says “the weak ones” it connotates that Curley’s wife is calling weak; they’re alone with no one to defend them ie Slim and George. She believes that they can not compete with her and that they have low authority because they’re scared of her. This shows Curley’s wife is represented as a villain because she picks on people who can’t say anything against her to make her go away.
Curley’s wife gives off the impression she is a floozy throughout the novel. When we first see her, her body language is deliberately provocative when she leans against a pole in the barn. ‘So her body was thrown forward.’ Knowing her beautiful womanly figure, and being the only woman on the farm, this suggestive posture reveals her need to be noticed and admired by the men. She talks very confidently and flirtatiously to George and Lennie even though they have just arrived and she doesn’t know them. She pretends to be looking for her husband and when told that he is not there Steinbeck writes: ‘“If he ain’t, I guess I better look some place else" she said playfully.’ This suggests her boredom in marriage and that she just wants company and fun. She talks ‘playfully’ as a young teenager would and obviously cares more about throwing herself towards people and enjoying male company than she does spending time with her husband.
To summarize, i believe Curley’s wife, although being a complicated and often sinister character, never intended to be or thought of herself as a flirtatious or a mean person and although at times she was presented as one, precise hints always arose explaining why she was acting that way and that her true personality was not shining through. (1198 words)