Of mice and men is set in 1930’s America. During the time period it was a very much considered that women were merely seen as sex objects and that men were the dominant and more superior gender. Throughout the novella we see how Curley’s wife: one of the only women on the ranch is treated and disrespected by the other workers. Steinbeck compares the loneliness of Candy, Crooks and Curley’s wife with the friendship of George and Lennie. The author also uses Curley’s wife’s vulnerability to show how everyone one on the ranch is vulnerable with the exception of Slim. Lennie is vulnerable because he has the mind of a child so is amoral.
George is also vulnerable because he is constantly tied to Lennie which could mean him getting into trouble easily. George constantly pesters Lennie into saying ‘if I was alone I could live so easy. I could go get a job an’ work an’ no trouble. No mess at all, and when the end of the month come I could take my fifty bucks and get whatever I want. Why, I could stay in a cat house all night…’ However due to Lennie’s guilt trap he makes George feel as if he has crossed the line. Instead Lennie tells George he would go and live in a cave which makes George cautious for Lennie to come back.
The theme of ‘Of mice and men’ is stated early in the novel, when Lennie persuades George to tell him again about their ‘dream farm’. As an alternative to the dream is the general reality for most itinerant workers. When the end of the month comes the men on the ranch will take there ‘fifty bucks’ into town and blow their money on prostitutes and alcohol. Steinbeck portrays women in a negative aspect by including them in cat houses. With the exception of Curley’s wife, there are no women on the ranch. We develop a clear understanding that Curley’s wife is extremely lonely. I feel that the theme of loneliness is presented very pessimistically.
All three characters that are very lonely- Curley’s wife, Candy, Crooks, all have brief, glimpse confident talks with Lennie, however soon return to their loneliness. In the case of Curley’s wife, her talk ends in an inevitable death. There is no glimmer of hope throughout the whole novel except when Slim confides in George on the last page of the book which may mean that Slim will befriend George. However no one finds a real friend and George is even forced into killing his best friend, Lennie. Throughout the story, all the works are very pessimistic to talk to Curley’s wife.
We can see that this makes her very frustrated and angry because she has no one to talk to. Curley’s wife’s loneliness is different to Candy’s but similar to Crooks’. Candy is welcomed in the bunkhouse and has the other men to talk to. We see that when Candy’s dog is killed he becomes hurt and upset. The death of Candy’s dog represents the attitudes towards people who are too old to live and that it is better to kill them rather than make them suffer. Candy’s dog’s death foreshadows the death of Lennie at the end of the book. Lennie is shot in the back of the head in the same way Candy’s dog is killed so it will not inflict pain.
However in the lateral stages of the book when Lennie kills Curley’s wife, Curley becomes enraged and says ‘I’ll shoot him in the guts’. This shows how Curley is not at all respectful in the way he kills someone with a clear learning disability. Steinbeck describes many characters appearances such as Curley’s wife. ‘She had full, rouged lips and wide spaced eyes, heavily made up’ yet Steinbeck rarely comments directly on characters, but he comments on Crooks. He presents Crooks’ room as a reflection of its owner. ‘This room was swept fairly neat, for Crooks’ was a proud aloof man’.
Crook’s pride intensifies his loneliness. He is unfairly segregated due to the colour of his skin. He is resistant when Lennie tries to befriend him as he is nervy because he is unfamiliar to human affection. ‘You got no right to come in my room. This here’s my room. Nobody got any right in here but me. ’ Eventually he softens and is grateful to talk to someone. Crooks envies Lennie’s friendship with George the same way Curley’s wife envies having a friend to talk to Crooks is lonely in a different way ‘A guy goes nuts if he aint got no body’ This quote is a central message in the novel to portray loneliness.
Curley’s wife’s story is a tragedy. She herself is not a tragedy, but her life and people around it is a great tragedy. She is the only woman in a male environment and has recently married a man who regards her as atrophy rather than a human being a partner. Steinbeck describes the relationship of the workers with woman in a negative light. Whit explains to George midway through the novel about local cat houses. ‘Jus the usual thing, we go to Susy’s place. Hell of a nice place’ This quote is very ironic because Whit’s perception of ‘nice’ refers to wasting away in a whore house.
This way of living is very poor and empty. Steinbeck presents attitudes towards women very cheaply and would make a woman feel very small and worthless. The main theme in the book is ‘The dream. ’ However Steinbeck includes woman in the reality and alternative to the dream. The reality was that life was very tough for workers travelling for workers. However when we look at the time period the novel is set we understand how America during the Boom was very successful. But due to the stock market crash where many famous movie stars lost their glamorous and exciting lives.
The great depression ended the era of optimism in America and began a generation where America was very pessimistic. Of mice and men is full of pessimism which reflects the mood of American society in the 1930’s. Dreams are important to many characters and is a key theme in the novel. George and Lennie dream of living ‘off the fatta the lan’ and Curleys wife dreams that she could have ‘been in the movies an had nice clothes’. In the penultimate stages of the book Lennie encounters Curley’s wife in the barn.
We understand Steinbeck’s perception of women in this chapter as to how they are very ignorant and can easily believe anything they are told. It may also be that Steinbeck is making a bigger point about men in American society not regarding women as individuals. Curley’s wife flirtatiousness may be a response to her loneliness. We also become aware of how bored she must get as she even visits Crook’s room and admits that she has nothing better to do and no one better to talk to. ‘Standin here talking to a bunch of bindle stiffs…an likin it because they ain’t nobody else.
Although she has a great deal in common with Crooks, Lennie and Candy she is unsympathetic towards them and is only talking to them out of boredom. Although it is easy to feel sympathy towards her we find it hard as she threatens Crooks; ‘I could get you strung up on a tree it aint even funny’ She is voicing the typical racist views of the time period and she is also asserting herself because she know that she can speak down to him because she is one above him in the pecking order. We know that Curley’s wife is tied up to Curley as throughout he novel she is continuously looking for Curley but never finds him. Curley’s jealous suspicion makes him look for her as he is aware that many people refer to her as a ‘tart’. This is another attitude Steinbeck puts across to the reader that women cannot be trusted around other men. Unfortunately Curley’s wife’s loneliness and frustration of having no one to talk to becomes very bitter. She also has a deluded belief that she could have been a movie star and that she has a wasted talent.
Steinbeck includes Curley’s wife’s dreams in the novel to portray how women are very ignorant and this is a clear attitude towards women as readers we pick up throughout the whole of the book. Steinbeck portrays Curley’s wife most sympathetically just before she dies when she is with Lennie in the barn. Her dreams of stardom are revealed to us in this section. We get a clear grasp of how she did not want the lifestyle she currently has with Lennie and that she would rather be in the movies in ‘Hollywood’. She has a deluded belief that her mother hid a letter away from her from a man promising her she could go to Hollywood.
Pathetically she actually believes this. We can assume that the man had led her on and had persuaded her into sleeping with him which was how many women were lingered into something during the time period. She then marries Curley. We feel sympathetic towards Curley’s wife as she finally admits that Curley ‘aint a nice fella’. She also says ‘I don’t like Curley’. She points out that she has told no body this before which highlights her loneliness. The fact that Curley’s wife is constantly belittled by everyone assuming that she is a ‘tart’ in her final chapter we see the real Curley’s wife.
Although she is never given a name her true emotions pour out of her when she is in the barn with Lennie. Through our first impressions of Curley’s wife we see that she is just a belonging to Curley. We understand as readers that Curley is extremely ignorant towards women and we see how he teases other men on the ranch because he can fulfil his sexual needs whilst the others have to go into town to fulfil theirs. This shows the very sexist attitudes towards women during the 1930’s and how many of them are just sex objects.
We can tell that she lacks attention from her husband and all she wants is someone to talk to and that will listen to her. However, due to Steinbeck’s perception of women in the 1930’s they are not listened to and are very low down when it comes to superiority. Curley’s wife confides in Lennie in the barn and shows sympathy towards him. It makes it easier to trust Curley’s wife and be sympathetic towards her. ‘You’re nuts. But you’re kinda a nice fella’. This is Steinbeck showing the good towards Curley’s wife rather than the bad when she integrates Crooks.
The mistake Curley’s wife makes which later leads to her death is letting Lennie stroke her hair. The action is probably a combination of sympathy towards Lennie and vanity. So, there are many aspects to consider when we analyse Curley’s wife. Steinbeck wants to convey that the men on the ranch will never see her as a real person with an identity of her own. This is why she is always known as Curley’s wife throughout the whole of the novella. When answering how Steinbeck presents women in the society in which the novel is set it is easy to do so.
Women are presented without an identity. The only woman on the ranch is never named and is always referred to as Curley’s wife. This shows how women are worthless and seen as property of men. When Lennie kills Curley’s wife at the end of the book Steinbeck clearly puts across the attitudes toward women are in the time period. Curley’s wife’s death is a symbolism of how women can be killed like an animal in a barn. When Lennie covers Curley’s wife’s mouth with his hand doesn’t make a difference because no one will ever truly listen to her anyway.