Curley’s wife only appears 3 times in the novel which is in section 2, 4 and 5. Although she may only appear three times, in those three times her presence is focused on by the author and through those main chapters, we begin to understand more and more about Curley’s wife.
In chapter 2 Curley’s wife is presented as a flashy lady who seeks attention from other men at the ranch. She is not addressed by her own name, but as Curley’s wife, which instantly shows her lack of importance in the scenes of the novel and suggests that in the times where this novel was set, a women’s importance on a ranch full of men was not respected at all. Right from the beginning of her introduction to the book, she is hinted to be a strange woman to bring nothing but badness. ‘Both men glanced up, for the rectangle of sunshine in the doorway was cut off.’ By the cutting of the sunshine in the doorway, Steinbeck could be already foreshadowing bad things. As Curley’s wife stands in the doorway, she cuts of the light of the sunshine that was peeking into the ranch house through the door, which causes darkness in the room. By Curley’s wife being the reason for the darkness in the room, this could be suggesting that she brings darkness wherever she is present which hints at things that may happen in the future. Her body language is deliberately provocative with the way she stands and leans onto the door.
‘She put her hands behind her back and leaned against the door frame so that her body was thrown forward.’ By the way she is acting in front of the new comers, she is instantly asking for attention to be noticed and admired by whoever is willing to admire her. Steinbeck says her body was ‘thrown forward’ which shows that’s she is flashy and deliberate as if she wants them to talk about her even after she leaves the room. She’s in need for her presence to be known and respected, although she doesn’t seem very respectable with the way she stands and presents herself as a married woman in front of the ranch men. She seems to look for any reason to be around men and uses her excuse of looking for Curley to stay within the eyes of the ranch workers. The way she speaks adds more to her provocative character.
‘“Im looking for Curley.” She said. Her voice had a nasal, brittle quality.’ She knows that Curley is most likely not to be in the ranch house where the workers stay but despite this, she feels the need to be around men, and ask for Curley where she knows he will not be. This suggests her need for company is so dramatic that she will talk to anyone who will talk back to her with a civil conversation, but all the men know she could be trouble and don’t talk to her at all, which keeps her coming back for more attention seeking. Steinbeck uses two words to describe her tone of voice, ‘nasal’ and ‘brittle’. These words mean the same thing which suggests a strong woman who isn’t easily handled, but her actions suggest otherwise. She talks one way and behaves in another which leaves the reader confused with her character but gives an idea on what her role may be like in the future of the novel.
In chapter 4, Curley’s wife is presented as lonely but smart and powerful. She takes advantage of being the only women on the ranch with plenty of men around her. “Listen nigger,” She said. “You know what I could do to you if you open your trap?” Curley’s wife is presented as a clever and authoritative woman at this stage. If anyone try’s to tell her off to Curley, she’ll simply accuse the man of miss-treating her which means whoever it is that’s told on her, will get killed by Curley himself. By having the power to do that, despite her worthlessness at the ranch, she remains above the lowest people in the hierarchy by one step. Although she sounds like a powerful woman in that quote, her character has an isolated side. ‘”Sat’iday night. Ever’body out doin’ som’pin. Ever’body, an’ what am I doin’? here, talkin to a bunch of bindle stiffs – a nigger an’ a dum dum and a lousy ol’ sheep.”’ She expresses her loneliness in a way for the ranch workers to not feel sorry for her, but to hate her even more.
She’s a very fierce and raged woman. She targets the ranch workers who are least important and takes out her rage on them. She’s clever with the way she speaks to them to show them her importance by insulting the three men and calling them names. Although she is being offensive, there is not much those men can do, as she has more power than they do despite the idea of all four of them being on the same level of importance. She also manages to get the idea that she is lonely and encourages her isolated life and lets them know her sad life behind her expressed beauty at the ranch. On the other hand, she is aware of where she is and why she is treated the way she is by the men at the ranch.
“If I catch anyone man and he’s alone, I get along fine with him. But just let two of the guys get together an’ you won’t talk. Jus’ nothing but mad.” The men are scared of each other because if they are seen with Curley’s wife, then questions will be raised and so they just keep away from her. But she knows that she can have a conversation when a man is by himself, but when there are two or more, she is aware that they are scared of each other and refuse to make any comprehensive conversation with her and makes this clear when talking to Lennie, Crooks and Candy. Overall, in this section 4, she is presented as a raged, lonely women but smart and vicious when she wants.
In the last chapter she appears in, Curley’s wife is presented as a kind and innocent but again a lonely woman. ‘” I get lonely,” she said. “You can talk to people, but I can’t talk to nobody but Curley. Else he gets mad. How’d you like not to talk to anybody?”’ This time, she doesn’t insult Lennie like she did last time and left more room for kindness between them however she does sound as if she knows he has some sort of disability and was taking advantage of this to talk to someone. She asks him how would he like not being talked to, ask if anyone talks to Lennie in the first place, so they have more in common than anyone does at this stage. Lennie knows that George told him not to talk to her; however she continues the conversation with him deliberately taking no consideration to what he had just told her. ‘She changed the subject. “What you got covered up there?” By changing the subject to something more serious, she gets Lennie’s attention which is what she wants, attention from someone and she seems to be getting it very easy, as a subject like this in particular is one of Lennie’s weak points.
Although she seems to be doing some things at the beginning for her entertainment, further into this chapter we begin to see her nice side. “She consoled him. “Don’t you worry none. He was jus’ a mutt. You can get another one easy. The whole country is fulla mutts.” This was said after she realised Lennie had killed the dog by accident. She comforts him and gives him a solution to what he had done but Lennie being Lennie only cared about tending rabbits but she didn’t rage at him for bringing up the rabbits again, she continued the conversation nicely. This implies to what she said in the previous chapter. She said: “If I catch anyone man and he’s alone, I get along fine with him. But just let two of the guys get together an’ you won’t talk. Jus’ nothing but mad.” And she’s right; she seems to be getting along fine with Lennie which shows that she is clever and understands how things work. As the conversation between them elaborate, she feels that she can trust Lennie and begins to tell him about her personal life with Curley. “Well, I ain’t told this to nobody. Maybe I ought’n to. I don’t like Curley. He ain’t a nice fella.”
Although throughout the novel it is hinted at that Curley doesn’t treat his wife in a nice manner both physically and verbally. When she says this herself, the readers are ensured that she doesn’t deserve that sad life she lives which explains the way she acts around men, wanting attention. Close to the end of this chapter, Curley’s wife ends up dead. “And then she was still, for Lennie had broken her neck.” Lennie breaks her neck out of panic and being scared. This scene links back to the beginning when George tells Lennie to keep away from Curley’s wife, as she’s nothing but trouble. The overshadowing of that becomes true when she ends up dead in the hands of Lennie. This whole time, Lennie was warned that she was going to cause him trouble, and that’s what she did, although it wasn’t her fault. “And all the meanness and the planning and the discontent and the ache for attention were all gone from her face.”
Only when she died, did her true colours come out for everyone to see. She meant no harm to anyone, all she wanted was a little bit of her intelligence and beauty admired, but that didn’t happen. “Now her roughed cheek and reddened lips made her seem alive and sleeping very lightly.” When someone dies, they became pale and look very disturbing but not this time. Although she was dead, Steinbeck describes her to make her seem alive beneath all of the make-up that hides her face. This emphasises how she changed instantly after death and all the negative aspects of her character are suddenly forgotten. “And sounds stopped and movement stopped for much, much more than a moment.” Sounds and movement doesn’t stop, but this metaphor enhances the idea that her death will change so many things for all the people who work at the ranch. Her existence was an important role and now everything will change.
Over all, in the three different chapters that Curley’s wife appears in, we are taught more and more about her character and her life as a wife of the boss’s son. Her character is mixed with different words that combine to make Curley’s wife: Lonely, sad, alone, powerful and a couple more which add up to make her personality and character. By the end of the novel the reader begins to understand why she’s “got the eye.” She doesn’t seem to mean any harm, but out of her frustration and loneliness, she’s always around other men for company and attention with regret of marrying Curley.
Courtney from Study Moose
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