The character of Curley’s Wife is one of the most significant characters in the book as she is linked to the key themes of loneliness and dreams, which ultimately leads to both her death and Lennie’s death. Steinbeck uses the character of Curley’s Wife as a microcosm for the prejudice that faced all women in 1930’s America. Like most of the main characters in the novel, Curley’s wife is significantly related to the theme of dreams. Her role in this theme is slightly more important than others, however, because of her position as the only female character on the farm.
The fact that she is the only woman makes her opinions and actions representative of all women living in the Great American Depression. “Coulda been in the movies, an’ had nice clothes- all them nice clothes like they wear. An’ I coulda sat in them big hotels, an’ had pitchers took of me. ” Here, we see how Curley’s Wife, despite not having a name, has dreams and still relies on those dreams as a way of escaping the loneliness in the farm.
Curley’s Wife is a stereotype of many other women in 1930’s America who turned to men as a result of failed dreams, and chose to take the easy route rather than be crushed by America’s cruel judgement of women. Curley’s Wife is very significant to the ending of the novel as her death is the downfall of George, Lennie and Candy’s united dream. Without this death, George, Lennie and Candy may still have gone on to live their shared dream, but because of it George had to kill Lennie.
The significance of Curley’s Wife is ironically also shown threw the insignificance with which the workers in the novel treat her. Within her very first introduction, Steinbeck offers a glimpse of her role as the promiscuous troublemaker and the way in which the other characters respond to this. George, in particular, illustrates how others judge or misconceive her solely because of her gender; ”Jesus what a tramp, so that’s what Curley picks for a wife”. Here, Steinbeck uses George to represent the male population of America and their attitude to women in the 1930’s.
The character of Curley’s Wife is particularly significant in this microcosm as she conveys the insignificance of women and their reliance on men to just ‘pick’ and drop them on their own accord. The disregard with which Curley’s Wife is treated continues through to the very lowest positions in the farm’s hierarchy. Despite being the daughter-in-law of the boss, Curley’s Wife still suffers abuse from George, Candy and even Lennie who often refer to her as “jail-bait” and a “tart”. These derogatory statements illustrate how Curley’s Wife is made to feel worthless solely because of her gender.
Curley’s Wife is significant as she presents the backward attitude of most men in 1930’s America who were scared to treat women with respect for fear of evoking conflict and losing their job, something so hard to come by in the harsh economic times. Steinbeck uses the character of Curley’s Wife to convey her dysfunctional marriage, something that was common in 1930’s America. Curley disrespects his wife and she is constantly the source of his objectification. This is most evident through her name ‘Curley’s Wife’ which clearly conveys the hold and possessive nature that Curley has over her.
Steinbeck’s use of withholding information here, also suggests that she is not deserving of her own name and highlights her inferior position on the farm. “I don’t like Curley. He ain’t a nice fella. ” Here Steinbeck shows how Curley’s Wife did not marry for love and demonstrates a common situation in America where women often used their sexuality to get them married for stabilisation during the Great Depression. Curley’s Wife is also a symbol of the mistreatment of women. “Curley says he’s keeping that hand soft for his wife”.
Here, we see how the other characters on the farm regard Curley’s wife as a mere sex object solely because of her gender and her dependency on her husband. This serves as a microcosm for 1930’s America, as the general consensus was that the sole purpose of women was to meet the needs of their husbands. A final way in which Curley’s Wife is significant in the novel is through her link to the theme of loneliness. Curley’s Wife is one of the loneliest characters in the novel, which is overlooked at first but becomes more apparent as the novel continues. “Why can’t I talk to you?
I never get to talk to nobody. I get awful lonely. ” Curley’s Wife is constantly rejected by her husband and to combat this she tries her best to attract the attention of the workers. She does this by going to extremes with her physical appearance; “She had full, rouged lips and wide-spaced eyes, heavily made up. ” This shows her desperation to be noticed, which is understandable given the cruel judgement and disregard with which she and many other American women were faced. The loneliness of Curley’s Wife and her child-like search for attention was eventually the death of her.
In her happiness at being noticed for once, Curley’s Wife misjudged Lennie’s capabilities, which was what ultimately led to her inevitable death. Curley’s Wife represents the lonely people in America and in the world whose cry for attention turns out to be their downfall. In conclusion Curley’s Wife is extremely significant to the novel and serves as a symbol for prejudice and objectification in 1930’s America. With the help of this character Steinbeck can clearly illustrate some of the novels key themes of loneliness, dreams and relationships from the perspective of the only woman in this novel.
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