In Of Mice and Men, we see various different sides of Curley’s wife. We are first introduced to her near the beginning of the book and she plays a big role towards the conclusion of the book. Her flirtatious character leads to her being killed by Lennie, in a confused state.
Candy, the old swamper, introduces us to Curley’s wife during his first discussion with George and Lennie. Candy tells them that Curley’s wife is a “tart”. The fact that Curley’s wife is introduced to us with having “the eye” tells us that she is very flirtatious with other men in the ranch despite having a husband (Curley). The fact that we, the readers, are introduced to Curley’s wife through malicious rumours means that already the reader has a negatively biased opinion on Curley’s wife and women in general at those times.
Curley’s wife is first physically introduced to us in the doorway of the bunkhouse where George and Lennie are at, asking for the whereabouts of her husband. She is described as wearing “a cotton house dress and red mules” which had “bouquets of red ostrich feathers” on the insteps. In the description of Curley’s wife’s clothes the colour red is repeated and emphasized many times. Red is often referred to as the colour of love and passion, which further emphasizes her sexual and flirtatious personality. Also the “bouquets of red ostrich feathers” on her insteps would have probably been very expensive at the time of the Great Depression and the fact that she wears them in the middle of a dusty and dirty environment where they could easily be ruined tells us that she is desperate to catch the attention of the workers and to also impress them despite having a husband, further emphasizing her character as a “tart”.
Curley’s wife is hated by the ranch workers . When she enters the room of Crooks, Candy and Crooks are “scowling down away from her eyes”. This tells us that they are either afraid of of Curley’s wife or that they are aware of the fact that anything involving Curley’s wife can bring no good. Either way the use of the word “scowling” tells us that the presence of Curley’s wife displeases Crooks and Candy. This tells us that all of the ranch workers dislike Curley’s wife as they know that there will be trouble if they ever speak to her.
Curley’s wife is not only described as being flirtatious but she is also shown to be cruel at times. Since Crooks and Candy keep ignoring her she gets frustrated and explodes when Crooks stands up for himself by saying threatening comments like “I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny”. This causes Crook to realize his place in society and causes him to become very weak. This tells us that at the time the words of a white woman were superior to that of a black man. This also emphasizes the amount of racism during the Great Depression.
During the same scene, you start to see a new side of Curley’s wife and start to see the loneliness she feels. We see this when Curley”s wife says to Crooks, Candy and Lennie saying that she is talking to “a bunch of bindle stiffs… an’ likin’ it because they ain’t nobody else”. This makes us understand the reason why she acts flirtatiously around the ranch workers. This is because she feels lonely as she is the only woman on the ranch and even though she has a husband he barely spends any time at home or with her. This shows that even though Curley’s wife married Curley, he thinks of her as nothing more than an object.
Curley’s wife’s last appearance has a big impact on how we see her. While the other ranch worker’s were playing horseshoe, Curley tells Lennie about the time which could have changed her life totally. She tells him that she could have been “in the movies”. In this line Steinbeck uses very clever irony. The fact that she wants to be under the spot light is unrealistic as all she ever does is cast shadows on herself and attract negative attention. Although, Lennie is not very interested in her stories, we learn about the true presonality of Curley’s wife, her innocence and her desperate need to escape the situation she is in.
At the scene of her death her pure personality is emphasized. This is conveyed to us when her face is described as being “sweet and young” and that her “ache for attention was all gone for her face”. The word ‘ache’ tells us that Curley’s wife’s desperate need for attention was so strong that it began to hurt her. When she dies she is no longer potrayed in a negative light but is instead shown in a very positive light.
When she dies also the atmosphere in the ranch changes. This is shown to us when in the book it says the “sun streaks were high on the walls” and the barn was light again. This could be that John Steinbeck is trying to use pathetic fallacy by trying to tell us that the positive change in the weather reflect the positive changes in the mood and appearance of Curley’s wife. Despite all the positive changes in her personality there are lots of different things that made her death inevitable. We see this when even though Lennie says he likes petting soft things and that most of the things he pets dies she still lets Lennie touch her hair. This tells us that her never ending want for attention, in the end, foreshadowed her death and ultimately lead to it.
We can see that the reason for Curley’s wife’s hostility towards the ranch workers is because of constant betrayals from them (eg. Curley because he married her but never showed any signs of affection towards her.) and because her needs for attention weren’t met.
To Curley, Curley’s wife is just a trophy which he shows off to people. The fact that her real name is never mentioned tells us that people on the ranch showed no signs of interest in Curley’s wife. The fact that she lives in the boss’s house and that she is married to the boss’s son makes her a woman of power even though she is treated as one of the lowest in the hierarchy of people at the ranch in terms of freedom and rights.
This loneliness causes Curley’s wife to make people who are in a low position feel worse so that she feels more important, powerful and authorative. We see this when she enters Crooks room and says “They left all the weak ones here”. This tells us that she thinks that she is superior to Crooks, Candy and Lennie even though Steinbeck doesn’t give her the dignity of having a name.
In conclusion, I think that even though she is a complicated and cruel character sometimes, she never planned on or thought herself to be a flirtatious person. Even though she often acted like one, there were hints telling us why she was acting this way and that her real personality was nenver clearly shown.
Courtney from Study Moose
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