Names have been an important facet of society for as long as Homo sapiens have existed. A name is defined as “a word or symbol used in logic to designate an entity. ” In Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck teaches a lesson about the nature of human existence and shows how grim and isolated people become without hope. Steinbeck neglects to address Curley’s wife’s character by name in order to emphasize her position as a literary element and provide commentary on society in the time period during which he lived. Curley’s wife is never named because Steinbeck wished to emphasize the ubiquitous dislike of her throughout the farm.
Whilst reading the novella, it is implied that no one on the farm likes Curley’s wife. However, there isn’t necessarily a flaw in her personality from which this aversion to her stems. The characters avoid interaction with her because they fear retribution from her possessive, short-tempered husband. The men on the farm begin to foster hatred toward her because her constant need for attention puts their livelihoods in danger. The men can’t ever get too familiar with her because they are distanced by the fact that she is Curley’s wife.
Steinbeck constantly reminds the readers and the characters in the book of this fact by denying her a proper name. Second in the litany of reasons why Curley’s wife remains unnamed throughout the entire novella is that Steinbeck wishes to superimpose over the entire story the idea that she was a possession of Curley’s and not an independent entity. During the course of the novella, we run across multiple instances in which Curley is angered by even the idea of his wife consorting with other men, even in a platonic manner.
As previously stated, Curley would even resort to firing men if he was unpleased with the way the interacted with his wife. The reader is able to draw a parallel between the way Curley treats and acts toward his wife and the way someone would act when dealing with an object of theirs. It is very clear that she is expected (by Curley and the other men, save Lennie) to obey Curley at all times. At the period in time in which the novella is set, women are expected to submit to their husband wordlessly and this is thoroughly explored in Of Mice and Men through Curley and his wife’s relationship.
The zeitgeist of 1937(the year in which the book was published) and its subsequent influence on literature written around that time period is another reason Curley’s wife remains nameless. In that time, women were considered inferior to men and weren’t nearly as important in the public eye. One must remember when reading Of Mice and Men that the 19th amendment which gave women the right to vote only became an addendum in 1920. The novella was set during The Great Depression a time during which women did not have the amount of authority in society as they do today.
Curley’s wife was used to depict women as troublemakers that disrupt the flow of life for men. Steinbeck failed to assign Curley’s wife a name because it was acceptable at the time for women to be undermined and overlooked. By constantly referring to her as “Curley’s wife” Steinbeck undermines her character as an independent person because she is forced to always be associated to Curley. With this “minor oversight” Steinbeck was able to use her character in idiomatic ways to enhance his writing.
As indicated previously, Steinbeck writes Curley’s wife as a literary element to enhance the story as opposed to a character in the story. Almost humorously, one of the outcomes of refusing her a proper name (which I suspect was intentional) is that it caused the reader to direct more attention to her than anyone else in the story. Steinbeck is commonly known as an author who utilizes descriptions as a way to portray his characters. Curley is often mentioned as “the boss’s son. ” Slim is introduced as the “jerkline skinner.
” Crooks is solely referred to as “the stable buck” or simply ‘nigger’ until chapter 4. Despite the fact that all these characters have names, they are relatively miniscule parts of the story when push comes to shove, the nameless wife is the one who causes things to happen and mandates attention from every angle, be it real or fictitious (by which I mean from both readers and characters within the story). The most convincing reason yet as to why Curley’s wife remains unnamed lays in something Steinbeck once said in an interview. Steinbeck described her character as a symbol.
He was recorded to have said “She has no function, except to be a foil – and a danger to Lennie. ” She was the antagonist who provided the main characters something to be anxious about; she was the force that put up massive hurdles for the protagonists to overcome. A villain is defined as “The person or thing responsible for specified trouble, harm, or damage. ” Inadvertently, such was the purpose of Curley’s wife. It wasn’t her plan to end Lennie’s life. She simply pursued what she felt she deserved: male attention. Her need to fill this desire for attention became so intense that it ultimately caused tragedy.
In conclusion, Curley’s wife not being assigned a name was not just a mere oversight at the hands of John Steinbeck. She was an instrument used to undermine the position of women in society. Steinbeck purposefully left out her name in order to enhance his writing, and address issues during the time period in which he lived. Curley’s wife was used to depict women as the ones who threatened the happiness and well-being of men. Denying Curley’s wife a name was an integral part in the writing of Of Mice and Men. (c) Raquel Bracey, December 2012
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