INTRODUCTION: In the novella ‘Of Mice and Men’, Steinbeck has used many different language features in order to create such a complex and sophisticated character whom I will be investigating – Curley’s wife. Curley’s wife is a pivotal character. She has been presented as a villain in the early stages of the book and her character seems to unravel as we read on. As a reader, we comprehend the factors which had influenced her actions and how living in a misogynistic society has affected the way she behaves – alternating the way we feel about this character and instead sympathy begins to develop, demolishing all the negativity that was created towards her in the first half of the novella.
In this essay I will be exploring the language techniques that Steinbeck uses in order to create both sympathy and dislike for Curley’s wife.
DISLIKE: The first time we hear about Curley’s wife is from an unfavourable insight of her when Candy is in conversation with George and Lennie, which Steinbeck portrays through dialogue.
We begin to perceive that Curley’s wife is a mean and seductive temptress as “she got they eye” and it has only been the period of two short weeks that she has been forced into a marital relationship with Curley, and is already beginning to commit signs of deceit. Due to Curley’s wife’s lack of power, she aims to attract the rancher’s attention through her physical appearance as this is the only method of gaining any form of communication with a person on the ranch. This quotation could also suggest that Curley’s wife is a ‘whore’ and has a wondering eye therefore proclaiming that she is a flirtatious, self obsessed and an egotistical woman who has the power to trap men in her very own spiraled web. However, during this time, women were seen as an object which held no power or dignity. They were degraded in their society and were only used for the purpose of sex, therefore, females were taught at an early age to behave in this manner to gain at least some form of attention. By demonstrating Curley’s wife’s actions through dialogue in this scene, Steinbeck wanted to introduce the audience to the compulsion that women had to undergo as a result of them being lowly regarded in society.
DISLIKE: Additionally, Steinbeck again develops dislike towards Curley’s Wife’s character when she makes her very first appearance. He does this by using symbolism. When she was first presented in the book, “the rectangle of sunshine in the doorway was cut off” providing a strong indication that Curley’s wife is an extreme threat to George and Lennie’s stereotypical American dream. This can be inferred as the word ‘sunshine’ is referring to George and Lennie’s dream. However, when the violent phrase ‘cut off’ is sequenced straight after the blissful word previously mentioned, negative vibes are echoed as this is symbolising that Curley’s wife will surely cause the destruction of ‘living off the fatta the land’, foreshadowing the potential dangers that are yet to come. An alternative meaning to this quote may be that Curley’s wife is the obstacle that is impossible to overcome in order to accomplish their dream, which has been furnished with small but significant details time and time again. The reader begins to question whether there is an inevitability to the novella’s end… The context that this is relating to is that the slightest of movements of women are powerful enough to completely demolish the good intentions that men may have had of them (which was highly unlikely at the time). Steinbeck wanted the audience to know that Curley’s wife is going to be the reason for George and Lennie’s bad fate that they’ve been destined with. He wanted the audience to acknowledge that women were the only barrier between a man and his dream. However, he also pursues the idea of the futility of the American dream and reminds the reader that the dream will have been left a dream anyhow, and will never have transformed into reality, no matter how hard they try.
DISLIKE: In Section two, Curley’s Wife’s description is continued and from this, the author formates further antagonistic feelings towards her through the use of colour imagery and symbolism. She is described as having “full rouged lips” and that her “fingernails were red”, and is also wearing a dress with “red mules”. Curley’s wife’s whole outfit is constantly referred to the colour red and Steinbeck has intentionally, repeatedly mentioned this colour in Curley’s wife’s description to emphasise the significance of it. This clarifies that Curley’s wife is going to be a potential threat to George and Lennie’s dream. She is a sign of jeopardy and Steinbeck is foreshadowing that she will bring harm to George and Lennie’s dream. This idea can then be confirmed to be rightfully conceived as the colour ‘red’ is also symbolic of danger, aggression and violence. This links to the woman in weed who was also dressed in red, indicating that Lennie will attack Curley’s wife as she is also dressed in red. Here, Steinbeck is foreshadowing the future of the book. Throughout the novel, we discover that George and Lennie’s dream is indeed shattered because of Curley’s wife. Steinbeck is once again reiterating the futility of the American dream, reminding the audience that not all wishes come true.
DISLIKE: Another way in which Steinbeck stimulates dislike for this character is through the use of dialogue. In section four, she says, “Listen, Nigger… You know what I can do if you open your trap?” This quotation accentuates the fact that Curley’s wife is deliberately making Crooks feel inferior just because he is a ‘negro’. During this time, dark skinned people had no respect or status in society. They were equivalent to the invisible atmosphere. Meanwhile, women were also socially degraded and to be in the circumstance of living in a misogynistic society and being the only woman on a ranch full of men, it was not the ideal place for a woman. Hence, Crooks was the only person on the ranch that Curley’s wife claimed more power over, which is the reason to her offensive behaviour. We feel hatred towards Curley’s wife as she has deliberately singled Crooks out, threatened him, and is now humiliating him in front of people who already consider him to be of minor existence. By portraying this negative aspect towards Curley’s wife, Steinbeck wanted to show that the only person Curley’s wife seemed the slightest of superior towards, was to the most degraded person on the ranch – Crooks. The author also pursues the idea of power in this scene.
SYMPATHY: Conversely, Curley’s wife is also presented as lonely and isolated and Steinbeck depicts this through foreshadowing and animalistic imagery. When Curley’s wife is first presented in the novella, it says that her dress is designed with “little bouquets of red ostrich feathers”. The fact that Steinbeck has included the word ‘ostrich’ in his description of Curley’s wife’s first appearance, it proposes the idea that Curley’s wife is trapped as an ostrich is a bird that is incapable of flight and Curley’s wife too, is captured in a prison, from which she cannot escape. Steinbeck has chosen to make a resemblance between Curley’s wife and the ostrich to symbolise that she is in a relationship with an arrogant man and is unhappy with her life – yet it is impossible to withdraw from, likewise the ostrich being unable to fly. This idea associates with the event of her death which takes place in Section five. The quote, “a pigeon flew in through the open hay door” is possibly suggesting that death was the only way of escaping her unfortunate and miserable life. This can be inferred as the author is now relating her to a pigeon which is a bird that can fly, therefore implying freedom.
SYMPATHY: Furthermore, Steinbeck again creates sympathy for Curley’s wife by introducing her maternal side when she is talking to Lennie in the barn. Steinbeck does this through the use of calm and comforting adjectives. In the novella, it states that “she consoled him” and she also “moved closer to him” and spoke “soothingly”. All the words utilised in this phrase are a clear portrayal that Curley’s wife is in fact a very cordial and affectionate woman and is only forced to act the way she does due to her loneliness and desperation of the desire to speak to someone. An alternative meaning may be that she is genuinely a very nice person but cannot project her true character due to the perceptions that have already been made of her as she is a woman. Steinbeck wanted to show the audience that men in a misogynistic society had always been prejudice about women and women were disadvantaged as a result of that. They were unable to be seen as nothing but a ‘tart’ or a ‘bitch’ which is exactly how Curley’s wife was viewed. She was branded with these titles and no one ever payed attention towards the consistence of her personality hidden beneath her physical appearance.
SYMPATHY: Steinbeck creates a compassionate feeling towards Curley’s wife as we come to learn about her dream in Section five. She is illustrated as a very innocent character and Steinbeck does this through the use of dialogue. In the revelation of Curley’s wife’s dream, we learn that she wanted to be an actress. She says, “He said he was gonna put me in the movies. Says I was a natural.” This quotation indicates that Curley’s wife was very naive as she was unaware that the man was only using her to fufil his own satisfactions. He had no intention of making her an actress and simply used her for his desires. However, Curley’s Wife was too innocent to understand disloyalty and deceit that she instead, blamed her mother for not receiving the letter she was promised. An alternative reason may be that she was too engrossed into her dream that she was in denial to accept the fact that the repulsive man was a fraud with no sense of emotion, and had only taken advantage of her as she was vulnerable and young. The author creates sympathy for Curley’s wife in this scene as she still believes that she would have been an actress if it weren’t for her mother. She is ignorant to the truth as a result of her innocence and is not ready to accept the facts. Steinbeck reiterates the idea of the futility of the American dream as once again, another dream has gone down the drain. Steinbeck wants to show the audience that the American dream will always remain a dream regardless of how much effort is made to fulfil it.
SYMPATHY: The final departure of Curley’s wife from the book is completed with a content description of her in death. Steinbeck creates affectionate emotions towards Curley’s wife by using innocent descriptive words. She is described as “pretty and simple” and “sweet and young” and to be “sleeping very lightly”. The descriptive words in these quotes have been chosen under the specification of contentment and youth. We feel sympathy for Curley’s wife as Steinbeck once again reminds the readers of Curley’s wife’s innocence which emphasises that Curley’s wife did not truly deserve death. Alternatively, the words ‘pretty’ and ‘simple’ are often used to describe youthful people and for the first time in the book, Curley’s wife was described like this, rather than a ‘tart’, therefore suggesting that Curley’s wife is not what we had initially thought she was. This contrast is extremely significant as it shows us the transition of the two different perceptions that were made of her throughout the novel. However, even after the death of Curley’s wife, the ranchers were only silent due to the devastating shock they had received. But within minutes, the silent mourning had ended as the men had realised that they need to move on. Life during The Great Depression was like a cycle. If one worker was fired, another took his position. Similarly, Curley’s wife was replaceable. Steinbeck wanted the audience gain knowledge of the hardships of the women living in a misogynistic society, and of the men struggling through The Great Depression.
CONCLUSION: In conclusion, Steinbeck presents Curley’s wife as both a hero and villain. Steinbeck manipulates the readers making it seem as if Curley’s wife is at fault. Before we even meet Curley’s wife, snide comments are made by the ranchers. She is called a ‘tart’, ‘looloo’ and ‘she’s got the eye’. This shows that Steinbeck wants us as the reader to dislike her. However, it is only in section five that we learn about her maternal figure, youth and innocence. This leaves the reader with the option of whether to dislike or feel sympathy for her. Finally, we never learn her name, and this stops us from empathising with her, and we begin to develop sexist views that she is less than the other characters, which will have been perceived at the time.