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John Steinbeck, in his novella ‘Of Mice and Men’, deliberately presents Curley’s wife as a character with no appellation, this pushes away the relationship between her and the reader. The fact that she has no appellation indicates to us that she is a generalised woman; a typecast of women in the 1930’s America, in which women were expected to stay at home to fulfil their housewife ‘duties’. Her appellation also indicates to us that she is the property of Curley, this dehumanizes her, she is thought of as an object.
Steinbeck first presents Curley’s wife as a flirtatious ‘tart’, and then develops her as a dangerous, vulnerable, and fragile character. Steinbeck ensures that the reader feels unsympathetic towards her in the inception, and throughout the novella, and then allows the reader to feel slightly sympathetic just afore her death, as we find out she is just a lonely woman full of dreams that are shattered. This is deliberately done once it is too late, her death is inevitable.
This means that the audience’s sympathy will always lie with Lennie, not Curley’s wife. In chapter 2, Candy introduces George and Lennie to the ranch, after Curley has his moment with George and Lennie, Candy states “wait’ll you see Curley’s wife…She got the eye”, immediately Candy’s description of her reveals (before the reader even meets her) that she is flirtatious and interested in men although she has a husband, and therefore she is a ‘tart’. This is dangerous since she is married to the boss’s son, who is always looking for an altercation.
Candy also reveals that Curley has a “Glove fulla Vaseline”, this immediately portrays Curley’s wife as a sexual object. Indeterminately, she is first presented as a flirtatious ‘tart’, and a sexual object; these could potentially equal disaster in the future. Steinbeck has purposely introduced her in this way as he desires us to hate and possess no sympathy for her… except for Lennie. In this novella, Curley’s wife is referred to as a ‘tart’ because of her flirtatious behaviour, and also, she is described as a ‘girl’ as she is immature and vulnerable.
However, the reader does not think of her as a ‘girl’, as she has “full, roughed lips”, “eyes, heavily made up”, and ‘red’ fingernails. The reader thinks of her as a woman, from the way her presence is described, and also the way she acts. Curley’s wife is at times, a viciously unpleasant woman. In chapter 4, she enters Crooks Bunk house, after she is confronted by the three grown men, Lennie, Candy, and Crooks, she reduces Lennie and Candy to ‘toneless…nothing’. Then refers to Crooks as a ‘Nigger’.
This is extremely shocking, particularly to a modern audience whereas in the 1930’s the audience would find it conventional. Curley’s wife has deliberately picked on Crooks, as he’s complexion is described as black, and therefore socially weaker. Indeterminately, she has more power than him. This exposure of weakness ultimately concludes with Curley’s wife threatening to have Crooks ‘strung up’. The fact that she is threatening to lie, and cry rape, to have an innocent man killed for no appropriate reason, paints her in a profoundly negative light.
After this, it makes Curley’s wife highly unpredictable throughout the rest of the novella as Steinbeck has instantly developed her from being a flirtatious ‘tart’, to being an evil woman, the reader cannot predict what she will be like further into the novella. After chapter 4, it emphasises how cruel Curley’s wife can be and turns the reader against her even more. In chapter 5, Curley’s wife seeks ‘attention’ (as she usually does) as she goes into the barn, she encounters Lennie.
Her reaction after finding the ‘dead’ puppy is very serene, she isn’t shocked since she states “just a dead pup”; this makes her abnormal because a normal woman would not look at this situation from a neutral point of view. Further in chapter 5, the reader deduces that Curley’s wife is lonely as she states “I get awful lonely”; this makes the audience understand her even more because she is always seeking ‘attention’. After Curley’s wife convinces Lennie into speaking with her, she then talks about how she could have been a “Hollywood movie star” but had her letter stolen, and therefore her opportunity was taken.
The reader realises that her that her dreams were destroyed; This links to the women in the 1930’s, as they also has aspirations that were not accepted. Curley’s wife believes that her mother stole her letter, as she states “I think my old lady stole it”; the word ‘think’ immediately tells the reader that she has no genuine evidence to prove this is true. Curley’s wife ultimately leads to her own necrosis as she tells Lennie to touch her hair; the word ‘touch’ immediately reminds the reader about the incident in Weed.
After touching Curley’s wife’s hair, Lennie then starts to stroke her hair in amazement, Curley’s wife suddenly starts panicking whens she feels Lennie’s strength, and in grabbing her, Lennie breaks her neck by accident, causing instant death. After Curley’s wife death, the reader feels sympathetic towards her, as the reader recently finds out that she was just a lonely woman full of shattered dreams. As soon as Candy walks into the scene, the readers sympathy for the dead woman disappears as the reader realises that Lennie, George, and Cady’s American dream ‘have it all in one month’ is now no longer in reach, it has been destroyed.
Curley’s wife has represented the death of dreams as she is the reason for this. Unlike Lennie, Curley’s wife had no excuse of being ‘mentally slow’ so should have controlled her herself and therefore it is her fault, the reader regrets having sympathy for her. Curley’s wife is a very unique character; she is not a typical 1930’s woman, as she is always outside of her house making her unable to carry out her ‘duties’, whereas a typical 1930’s woman would always stay at home fulfilling their housewife ‘duties’. Curley’s wife should have been interpreted as a typical 1930’s woman.