Of Men and Mice is not kind in its portrayal of women. In fact, women are treated with contempt throughout the course of the book. Steinbeck generally depicts women as troublemakers who bring ruin to men and drive them mad. Curley’s wife, who walks the ranch as a temptress seems to be a prime example of the destructive tendency. Despite the author’s rendering, Curley’s wife emerges as a relatively complex and interesting character. Although her purpose is rather simple in the book’s opening pages, she is the “tramp”, “tart” and “bitch” that threatens to destroy male happiness and longevity. The social setting of the novel is also important, as it could later explain characters attitudes towards other people. It is set in the U.S. in the 1930s; this is the time of the Great Depression. This was a result of the First World War. It affected the rich and poor alike, factory workers and farmers, bankers and stockbrokers. In short, it affected everyone; no one was left untouched.
But of all the people hurt, farmers were the worst off. Curley’s wife is first introduced in person to us in a symbolic way; this is shown when George is talking to Lennie about the dream and when Curley’s wife first meets both men. “Both men glanced up, for a rectangle of sunshine in the doorway was cut off.” The symbolic meaning of the word sunshine is hope, freedom, happiness and dreams. This foreshadows that she may cause trouble or come in the way and could ruin it all for Lennie and George. She is also described as a “girl”, which tells us that she is very playful, childish and vulnerable. Her appearance later in the novel becomes more complex. But even before this we are forewarned about her, Candy tells George and Lennie about her, making her out at the wrong type to begin with, “Married to weeks and got the eye? Maybe that is why Curley’s pants is full of ants,” giving us the impression she was a person not to socialise with.
Also tells us that the men on the ranch know that Curley knows that is wife looks at the rest of them, hoping for one of them to try and get close to her, so he can then create a situation for a fight. As Candy relaxes he also goes on to get them to have the same opinion as him about her by saying, ‘well, you look her over, mister. You see if she ain’t a tart”, and the reply from George, ‘Purty?’ making sure that we see her as ‘jail bait”. Then when we first get to see her she is dressed as if she is going out to a party, and Steinbeck also enforces the concept that she is trouble and a tart, by describing her appearance, “she had full rouged lips”, “red mules, on the insteps of which were little bouquets of red ostrich feathers”, using the colour red as a foreshadow that she is dangerous. This is the first time also that we see that she is attractive and that she knows it, also that she wants the men to look at her, “she put her hands behind her back and leaned against the door frame so that her body was thrown forward”, forcing the men to look at her curves.
This first sign of nativity shows that she doesn’t understand her affect on men, showing her age as a teenager and her understanding of her sexual attractiveness. We also get an insight to her life with her husband and why she is always coming around the rest of the men. When Candy tells George and Lennie about Curley having his glove full of “Vaseline” and that he was keeping “that hand soft for his wife”, tells us that she was also being beaten up, and that nobody could see the bruises because Curley had softened his hand, or he hit her in places where we couldn’t see the bruises. This is the first time we see her as a victim needing help. We also see that see can be cruel, and willing to misuse power. When she confronts Lennie, Candy, and Crooks in the stable, she admits to feeling a kind of shameless dissatisfaction with her life.
Her vulnerability at this moment and later when she admits to Lennie her dream of becoming a movie star makes her utterly human and much more interesting than the stereotypical vixen in fancy clothes. She seeks out even greater weakness in others, preying upon Lennie’s mental handicap “they left all the weak ones here”, Candy’s debilitating age, “tell an’ be damned. Nobody’d would listen to you, and you know it” and the colour of Crook’s skin “you know what I can do to you if you open your trap?” in order to steel herself against harm. Dreams are a major reoccurring theme, when Lennie tells Curley’s wife of his and George’s dream she just says “baloney”, but she has a dream of her own and she proceeds to talk Lennie about it. She has dreamt of being a movie star, which nearly came true when she encountered an actor. ‘He says I could go with that show”, but like most young girls was forbade from her mother, ‘my ol’ lady wouldn’ let me”. So having her dream pulled out from underneath her she rebelled, and married Curley.
However she always wanted to achieve something of herself and loved attention. “Curley’s wife lay with a half-covering of yellow hay. And the meanness and the planning and the discontent and the ache for attention were all gone from her face. She was very pretty and simple, and her face was sweet and young. Now her rouged cheeks and her reddened lips made her seem alive and sleeping very lightly. The curls, tiny little sausages, were spread on the hay behind her head, and her lips were parted”, this is the first time we are shown her true self – she was a young, innocent, lonely young girl. When you take away all the walls she had erected you come back to a young girl wanting to be loved, who saw Lennie as a way out from Curley’s abusive relationship.
As Lennie could hurt Curley, but not realising the danger she was ultimately putting herself into. So in conclusion Curley’s wife is the most depressed and lonely characters in the novel. She has no friends, no future, no respect; she doesn’t even deserve a name. All she wants is someone to talk to but in her mind the only way she can do this is by flaunting herself to the men to get noticed. This leads her to be perceived as a “tart” by the men. She represents absolute loneliness and desperation to achieve something better in life. Even though she is very lonely, she comes across as a very beautiful woman. She flaunts herself by dressing and acting in a “tart” like manner, but really she is just making use of her body to gain the attention of the workers to soothe her.
If anyone would give her a break, treat her like a person, she would idolise them. Her craving for contact is immense but she, with her background is incapable of conceiving any contact without some sexual context, she is not particularly oversexed, but has been forced to recognise that her sexuality is the only weapon she has, and the only thing that gets her noticed. Consequently she is a little starved. She knows nothing about sex, except the mass information girls tell each other. All through the novel the men make out that Curley’s wife is trouble. But yet there was never any proof that Curley’s wife has ever caused any of the trouble or conflicts. The only trouble she caused was when she died.
Courtney from Study Moose