Curley’s wife is a young, pretty woman, who is mistrusted by her husband, Curley. The other characters refer to her only as ‘Curley’s wife,’ which is significant as she is the only character in the novel without a name. She is a simple object or possession belonging to her husband and this shows the severity of the sexual discrimination in America in 1930s. I believe Steinbeck would have thought of her not as a person but a symbol. Almost everyone on the ranch is lonely and she symbolises this. The audience would come to believe she is a weak isolated character however, the men are fearful of her. She is the wife of their boss. She has power and this power creates fear among the ranch workers. She is both in charge and screaming for attention. When we first meet Curley’s wife, the description of her suggests she is clearly overdressed for life on a ranch. ‘Her fingernails were red’ and she wore ‘red mules, on the insteps of which were little bouquets of red ostrich feathers.’ The repetition of the red suggests danger.
This could be a warning about trouble in the future. Danger creates fear and the workers on the ranch definitely fear her. She has the power to dismiss them from their jobs or even have them lynched as she is the boss’s wife. This ‘Miss Dynamite’ image is supported by the fact that George thinks she will be trouble. He calls her a ‘tramp’, ‘poison’ and tells Lennie (who has taken a shine to her) to ‘leave her be’. He sees her as a threat and doesn’t want Lennie to get involved with someone who could potentially lose them their jobs. The audience begins to dislike this woman. This highlights the prejudice against women at the time. She comes across as a confident flirt when in company due to her body language. The first description of her includes ‘..so that her body was thrown forward’. This gesture suggests that she almost throws herself at men. George called her a ‘tramp’ and her actions are beginning to fulfill this opinion of her.
I think some would view this as disappointing. Women were mainly seen in whore houses at the time. The fact that Curley’s wife had found herself a husband, lived on a ranch and not in a whore house, suggests she is a ‘good girl’. We want her to be different from the general view of women at the time which had been brought about by prejudice. Unfortunately she comes across as no different. This continues in chapter 5, when Curley’s wife consoles Lennie. ‘She moved closer’ is repeated showing how she continuously reduces the distance between herself and Lennie. It suggests she is forward and flaunting herself at him. The audience could start to feel uncomfortable and anxious at this point. This could be the moment of danger that was foreshadowed in the beginning. She seems to be the powerful Miss Dynamite. However, there are so many implications that she is a lonely victim.
After she is killed there is a poignant moment in the book. The long sentences emphasise the movement of peace, time standing still before the men find her body. All the negative aspects of the character disappear and we feel sympathy for her. She tries to convey glamour and sophistication when really she is just a sweet country girl. Steinbeck describes her as ‘very pretty’, ‘simple’ and ‘sweet’ when dead. The audience now realise the simplicity of her true self. ‘…the discontent and the ache for attention were all gone from her face’ shows that she is at peace. She doesn’t have to pretend anymore. She has been putting on an act. She had a dream which we only become aware of in this chapter to become a film star in Hollywood. One theme in the book is the American dream. Lennie and George have one.
However, it is suggested that this is unreachable as George talks of them owning ‘red and blue and green rabbits’ which gives the American dream a fantasy quality. The fact that Curley’s wife still seems to believe in her dream gives her a naivety and we feel more sympathy for her and the audience warm to her. I think this is the point in the book (when Steinbeck reveals her true character) that the audience can look back over the book and think of her differently, as the lonely victim. For instance, she is constantly searching for her husband which could be an excuse to mingle with the other men. ‘I’m looking for Curley’ could have a hidden meaning and she could be desperate for some attention if she is lonely. The loneliness of her character is supported by the scene with Lennie in Chapter 5.
She tells Lennie the about herself and her dream. She is so desperate to talk to someone and for someone to listen. ‘.. her words tumbled out in a passion of communication’ shows how desperate she is to share her story. This desperation continues when ‘she went on with her story quickly, before she could be interrupted.’ This could be seen as her being conceited. On the other hand, she could just be overwhelmed that someone is actually listening to her so she wants to say everything before it becomes too good to be true and Lennie loses interest. This implies she has no one to talk to which is saddening as it shows how isolated she must be.
This isolation is emphasised further when she can’t even connect with Lennie. The one person who she starts to befriend turns out to be too good to be true. ‘Don’t you think of nothing but rabbits?’ shows that Lennie isn’t really listening. They lose what was a potentially beautiful connection. In conclusion, Curley’s wife dreams of being Miss Dynamite but is really only the lonely victim. Her dream was to be a film star in Hollywood but she finds herself living on a ranch. One of her strengths is her status in society as the boss’s wife but apart from this she seems to be the lonely victim through and through even though she tries to cover it up with her ‘glam’ image. She hides behind a mask and the audience only realise when she dies.