How does Steinbeck present ideas of relationships in a time that this novel is set? Steinbeck portrays a world dominated by authoritative white males. It is the attitude of this social structure that permeate ranch society and those who come from outside these expectations are inferior. Of Mice and Men describes the plight of which women, disabled people, black people and people with mental difficulties endure and suffer simply because they do not fit into the ideal category which we see whilst they interact with each other. Lennie’s brief interaction with Crooks reveals the complexity of racial prejudice during the ranch life. Like many of the men on the characters in the story, Crooks admits to being very lonely. “This here’s my room. Nobody got any right in here but me.” When Lennie visits him in his room, Crooks turns him away, in hope that he will prove a point that if a black man cannot enter a white man’s room then it is unacceptable for the reverse to occur.
However, his desire for company ultimately wins out and he invites Lennie to sit with him. In addition, he seems very suspicious of any kindness he receives. The fact that he doubts Lennie being kind to him refers to the strong racism on the ranch. Crooks is not sure how to react to Lennie and his instant reaction is for Lennie to leave. This outsider status causes him to lament his loneliness, but we can see the corrosive effects it has on him as he seems delighted in seeing loneliness in others. For example, he suggests that George is gone for good and it is not until Lennie threatens Crooks with physical violence does he relent. We cannot blame Crooks. On the other hand, this evokes sympathy as the origins of his cruel behaviour are made evident. We can infer that he is jealous and lonely that he wants to see someone else hurt just like he is. Curley and his wife have an unstable marriage, lacking in respect, compassion and communication. Curley believes that his wife is his possession and shows her off to the other men.
Throughout the novel we see Curley asking the other men where his wife is and likewise we see Curley’s wife looking for him. This could be a metaphor that although they are together they are still lonely. Their relationship is unhealthy as he manipulates and intimidates his wife. However, Curley seems very selfish and he did not seem to care for his wife. He used her for sex. Furthermore, the fact that she is referred to as “Curley’s wife” suggests that women did not have an identity. Curley is too protective over his wife as he knew she flirted with the other men and Curley felt threatened, especially as she was the only woman on the ranch. There is not trust between them which is very unhealthy and not good. I think she enjoyed flirting because she felt isolated and lonely. Most of the ranch hands looked down upon her and thought she was a “slut.” This was the typical attitude towards women during this time period.
They were seen as possessions of their husband. At the end of the novel, Steinbeck said that when she died, she was released and “discontent and the ache for attentions were all gone from her face. She was very pretty and simple, and her face was sweet.” When she was alive, she was wearing a mask and no one knew her true identify, as there was no one there to understand or get to know the real her but now she is dead, and the mask is off she looks better: “Her reddened lips made her seem alive.” Finally, in death, she could find the peace and calm that evaded her when she was alive in the harsh society. Ironically, her corpise is praised more in death than she was life.
We begin to question Steinbeck’s intentions in giving us an unsympathetic view of this women and in women in general. Whenever she expresses her loneliness they are followed by acts of manipulation or violence. He seems to characterise women as trouble and they are “the downfall of man.” She is the catalyst of the drama which links to that point also. I don’t necessarily think that Steinbeck was sexist and is instead making a point about society’s sexism. She is the only character without a name, and even Crooks- who at that time was a member of a even more hated social group and if she talks to anyone “he gets mad.”
Courtney from Study Moose
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