The characters, ‘Curley’s Wife’ from Of Mice and Men and ‘Mally’ from Malachi’s Cove help to shed light on women’s experiences during the early Twentieth century. It would appear that there is little difference between Mally and Curley’s wife because they both seem to be living in an isolated situation where there are no other women around to talk to and bond with. During the time the short story of Malachi’s Cove and the novel Of Mice and Men were set, women’s public roles were minimal to that of men’s.
However, by reading both novels I am able to observe the author’s attitudes towards women as they are presented in very different styles.
One of the main reasons why Curley’s wife and Mally are so different is because they live in different countries and different environments. Of Mice and Men written by John Steinbeck was set near Soledad, California and dealt with the lives of itinerant farm workers.
Many of them travelled from far away places seeking a better life. For example, Curley’s wife’s ambition was to be in Hollywood, “Coulda been in the movies and had nice clothes,” but as the novel portrays, many of these dreams were lost.
Malachi’s Cove on the other hand was set in Victorian England. Mally (short for Mahala) lived with her grandfather in a cottage on the Northern coast of Cornwall between Tintagel and Bossiney. Old Glos (Mally’s grandfather) had lived and worked here for many years, earning his living by saving seaweed from the waves and selling it for manure.
Due to his old age and bad health, he could no longer do the work. So, it was now Mally who took on the responsibilities.
Anthony Trollope, the author of Malachi’s Cove describes Mally as a “wild looking, almost unearthly creature” whereas Curley’s wife was described with feminine attractions. She had “full, rouged lips and wide-spaced eyes, heavily made up.” Because two of the characters physical appearances were so different, it was probably the reason why their personalities weren’t similar either. The authors of both novels also used colour to describe each character. For instance Mally had “black, uncombed hair” and “bright, black eyes.” The colour black is usually described when something is dull or dead.
Using colour not only tells the reader what the colour of her hair and eyes were, but it cleverly describes her personality using repetition of the colour black. However, Steinbeck uses the colour red to describe Curley’s wife,”her finger-nails were red” and she wore “red mules.” The colour red seems more dangerous and fierce but at the same time alludes to seduction and passion. The writing technique both authors use sums up each character’s personality well by effectively using colour.
There is a very big difference between the way the other characters in the books think of Mally from Malachi’s Cove and Curley’s wife from Of Mice and Men. When Curley’s wife is first mentioned, Candy tells George how “she got the eye.” He later goes on to say, “I think Curley’s married a tart.” These are the first impressions the reader gets of Curley’s wife. When she finally arrives on scene and meets Lennie and George for the first time, “the rectangle of sunshine in the doorway was cut off.” Steinbeck symbolises her personality again, this time using light and dark. He tries to indicate that Curley’s wife is bad news by using darkness. He also tries to show that there is no hope of a future for Lennie and George whilst she’s standing in the way of their light.
Unlike Curley’s wife, Mally was a well-respected individual, but this was only to the elders. The people of her own age didn’t think much of Mally, so she hadn’t any friends. In Malachi’s Cove, Trollope refers to the term “vixen” to describe Mally’s personality. He repeats this word throughout the book to emphasise it so the reader can just capture the “wicked little vixen” personality she had. Using the image of a vixen, the author parallels her personality to the one of a spiteful and argumentative woman. By using metaphors and comparisons, Trollope paints a picture of the character’s personality to the reader.
As mentioned before, Mally isn’t liked by many of her peers, but she is well respected by the elders. This might have been because she was so good to her grandfather and took on all the responsibilities of work he used to do. To the older generation, they would have thought of Mally as a role model for others her own age because she was so helpful to her grandfather, but her peers didn’t class her as any sort of role model. Mally and Curley’s wife were both similar because they had no friends, but Curley’s wife’s attitude was different to Mally’s in the fact that she tried to make new friends on the ranch, but she never succeeded.
George tells Lennie to stay away from her the moment they first meet her and tries to explain to him, women like her were “rat traps.” I think all the men felt as though they shouldn’t speak to her because she was ‘Curley’s wife’. Nobody would want to mess with Curley because he was known to be quite violent, and he was the boss’s son. Mally on the other hand never tried to make any friends. Like the people around her confessed, “she worked day and night, and knew nothing of fatigue.” She seemed to be so occupied in all her responsibilities, which meant she had no time for socialising.
Even though both these books were set at a similar time, Mally was allowed to work but Curley’s wife was not. I think the main reason for Curley’s wife being unable to work on the ranch was, the men classed her as being in possession of Curley. For example, throughout the entire novel Steinbeck doesn’t give her a name, she’s simply ‘Curley’s wife’. George said, “such a ranch ain’t no place for a girl, specially like her.” This remark George came out with was not only sexist towards women, but he also meant it wasn’t a place for females like Curley’s wife. It seems he said this because to George, Curley’s wife was a “tramp” and ” a rat trap” because of the way she acted in a seductive manner when she was near men. George wasn’t the only man who felt this way, other men also kept their distance from Curley’s wife.
For instance, when Curley’s wife went into Crooks’ barn where some of the other men were, Candy said to her, ” you got a husban. You got no call foolin’ aroun’ with other guys, causin’ trouble.” Like George, Candy also knew that Curley’s wife was trouble because she shouldn’t go around talking to other men whilst her husband wasn’t there. The men on the ranch didn’t want to lose their job because Curley thought they were trying to steal his possession, his wife. Curley’s wife knew that the men on the ranch preferred to stay away from her, but if a man was alone, “I get along fine with him,” she said. She tells Lennie, Crooks and Candy, ” just let two of the guys get together an’ you won’t talk.” She went on to say, “ever’ one of you’s scared the rest is goin’ to get something on you.” That’s just what George and the other guys thought would happen if they were to talk to her.