How Is Curley’s Wife Presented – Victim or Villain? Essay
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Curley’s wife is the only women at the ranch in Of Mice and Men. She is generally portrayed as a young, lonely, bored and childish girl. “Baloney!” is her ‘word.’ This single word shows that she thinks she is a movie star. No one really talks like this. All the way through the book, it is evident this is how she sees her life; unreal, like a movie and dramatic. Curley’s wife is talked about before she is seen in the book.
The first actual mention of her is ‘wife.’ Already it has been established that she has no name, she is just Curley’s wife. The men see her as a women, not as a real person. The swamper gives his opinion straight away on her. He immediately agrees that she is ‘purty’ but has ‘got the eye.’ This shows that the men see her as just a pretty girl, who means nothing. The fact that they mention she has the eye gives the impression that the men have been watching her, and are curious about her, as they have noticed this.
This also shows that the men see her as provocative, and the swamper gets this impression over to George straight away, so all the book he treats her in a biased way, because of what was said then. He then describes her as ‘…a tart.’ This is very discriminatory and shows what most of the men think about her.
They do not understand her, so she must be a tart! The swamper also invited George to ‘look her over.’ They are treating her like a possession, not a human being. Curley’s wife’s first appearance happens soon after George and Lennie hear about her. She stands in the doorway ‘looking in.’ This puts her immediately in place as the outsider, always looking in, never part of the action. She is described as ‘heavily made up’ and this tells you a lot about her. There is no reason to be heavily made up on a ranch, so she must have to much time on her hands. The fact she is wearing so much makeup tells us that Curley’s wife is bored. Also her hair is in ‘little rolled clusters,’ something which takes an extreme amount of time, pointing further to the fact that she is bored. Her ‘cotton house dress’ and ‘red mules’ are completely inappropriate dress for a ranch, and are actually quite expensive, film star clothes, giving us the impression that she thinks a lot about herself. When she speaks, it is evident she is socially awkward, as she doesn’t introduce herself or even say hello, just states that she is ‘lookin’ for Curley.’ Her voice is ‘nasal, brittle,’ which is not sexy, even though this is how she portrays herself through her makeup and clothes.
When George answers her, she doesn’t leave, but asks “Your the new fellas… aint you?” This shows that she wasn’t actually looking for Curley, she is just trying to start up a convocation and doesn’t really know how to do it, further pointing at the fact she is socially awkward. Also she moves so her body is ‘thrown forward,’ trying to show off her best assets to the new guys, so she thinks a lot about herself and is a massive flirt! However, this idea as changes when she ‘bridles’ under Lennie’s eyes. This shows that she doesn’t actually like being looked at, and is uncomfortable with men looking at her. Therefore, surely this points to the fact that she isn’t a tart! When she offers to go somewhere else, she says it ‘playfully’ as if she is wishing the men will ask her to stay, as she wants the company and again is flirting. Throughout this, George has hinted that he wants her to go away four times, but she is either ignorant and has not got the message or is just plain lonely and doesn’t care if they want his company or not. Her next sentence, ‘Nobody can’t blame a person for lookin’ is very staged.
Again, this wording is only used in the movies and her line sounds fake and practised. It is almost like she is play acting, and unreal. When Slim arrives, and tells her straight that she can’t be looking very hard she turns ‘apprehensive’ and ‘hurries away.’ This shows that she is actually quite scared that the Slim knows what she is up too, and also that she is quite scared of Curley. Her first appearance confirms the stereotypes that were placed on her before we met her. However, these stereotypes do not hold up through the book. Her second appearance is in Crooks’ barn. She straight away gives her usual excuse for being around the men ‘any of you boys seen Curley?’ It is obvious that she again is not really looking for Curley, just wants the company. Also the word boys shows that she doesn’t really considers Crooks Candy and Lennie men, as they both have what she considered bad quality’s therefore they are not real men. She again is ‘heavily made up,’ which shows that she is bored and has too much time on her hands. She calls Crooks, Candy and Lennie the ‘weak ones,’ even though Lennie is obviously far from weak. She identifies them as weak because they are the unpopular ones, she knows how to hurt them, but is only doing this as she is angry at being left behind herself.
By saying this she is also identifying herself as weak, this is why she really said ‘they left the weak ones behind,’ she is including herself in that. Also by saying she knows where Curley is, “I know where they all went,” she is admitting that she is not in Crooks’ room to look for him and that she is just craving company. She regards them ‘amusedly’ showing that she has no respect for these ‘weak’ men, before giving her view on mankind. When Crooks mentioned her husband, she really lets off what she feels for him, “Swell guy, ain’t he?” She brings up Curley’s hand, as she wants the gossip, as when she asks her face is ‘interested.’ When she doesn’t believe his answer she says her favourite word, “Baloney!” This, as I said above, is a childish and movie star attitude, showing that she thinks she is living in a fairy tale. Next, she shows us how much contempt she feels for her life, “An’ what am I doin’?” She knows that she regrets marrying Curley and feels her life is going nowhere. She then decided the only way to interest is to insult, and called the men ‘nigger,’ ‘dum dum’ and ‘lousy old sheep.’ She is taking out her anger at her man being in the cat house and her life going down the toilet and the men, who can’t do anything about her.
She doesn’t even care when Candy tells her where to go, just replies in her film star way with “Baloney” showing she doesn’t care a jot! She barely flinches when Candy insults her, and turns her attentions to Lennie, where Lennie makes a fatal slip up. The way she just turns her attention to Lennie shows that she is actually hurt by what Candy has said, but is trying to hide it. She is quite sensible with Lennie, but flips her anger on Crooks and threatens to get him ‘strung up on a tree.’ The fact that she needs to throw her anger on to someone shows how reckless she is, and completely not in control of her own emotions. When Lennie threatens to tell she says that “Nobody’d listen to you.” She knows the men’s weak points and are using their weakness to keep herself safe, a bad quality in a person showing she is selfish. She leaves when Crooks says the guys are back, further showing how scared she is of Curley’s wrath. Her final appearance is in the barn with Lennie, the place where she dies. She came into the barn very ‘quietly,’ showing she is sly and sneaky. She is yet again ‘heavily made-up’ wearing the ‘cotton dress’ with the ‘mules.’ Again, this is completely unsuitable for the ranch and shows she has too much time on her hands and she thinks she lives in a movie, where she always has to be made up. She was ‘quite near’ to Lennie, showing she has no recognition for personal space and is awkward with people.
She calls him “sonny boy” which is again only a thing a movie star would say, and is very patronising towards Lennie. From this you can tell that she really is selfish, and doesn’t realise how much her words can hurt people. She ‘laughed’ when Lennie refused to talk to her, she is either ignorant, completely stupid, or doesn’t care if Lennie wants her there or not! When he refused again she knelt ‘beside him;’ she will not take no for an answer! She uses emotional blackmail on Lennie, as she says she gets ‘awful lonely,’ which shows she is very crafty and actually cleverer then she is made out to be, though she doesn’t use her intelligence for positive things. When she sees the puppy; “Why, he’s dead!” we see that she is chocked, and wary of Lennie now. This also shows us that she has got a heart! When she starts telling her story, neither of the two listen to each other. She doesn’t seem to care though, and refuses to see that Lennie isn’t interested. We find out the reason for her movie star addiction, and see her naivety as she actually thinks the man wrote to her; “I never got that letter…I always thought my ol’ lady stole it. We find out she married out of spite; “So I married Curley.” This explains her constant flirting with men, she does not love Curley in any way.
She is very materialistic as she wants “them nice clothes like they [movie stars] wear” instead of the actual fame. This shows she doesn’t really understand what being famous is and thinks it’s all about nice clothes. When she realises Lennie isn’t listening she turns ‘angrily’ on him. She thinks her story is amazing, and that she really could be famous, and that everyone should think her life is the most interesting thing in the world. She actually ‘moved away from him a little’ when he moves close to her, giving us another view of her, that she is not a tart, and doesn’t actually like men being close to her! Overall, she dies because of her vanity. She invites Lennie to ‘feel’ her hair. She dies of her own stupidity, as she is too scared to shut up. She dies because she is too naive, to trusting, and much too vain. ‘Let go, you let go!’ Steinbeck portrays her as a girl throughout the entire book. Everytime he mentions her he calls her a ‘girl’ giving us a contrast between the sexy arrogant woman and the young naive girl. Much of how he sees her is portrayed in death.
He says that all the ‘meanness,’ ‘plannings,’ ‘discontent,’ and ache for attention,’ are all gone. This shows us that all of her bad quality’s have been made by life, life has made her bitter. He says that her ‘rouged cheeks’ and ‘reddened lips’ made her ‘alive’ in away. This gives the impression that she is innocent in death, that she is almost a sleeping beauty, and that she is now at peace with herself. In death, she is the poster girl she always wanted to be, and this is how Steinbeck sees her. I think he sees her as a victim, as in death we see a poor innocent girl, not a heartless selfish women. I personally think Curley’s wife is a victim in Of Mice And Men. Life has been hard for her, she has been overcome with pride, pity, lies, stupidity and vanity. She actually died because of her own stupidity, and her death was partly her fault.
I feel that her victim qualities outweigh her villain qualities. Yes she always found others to blame, found the bad in people, and criticised everyone in sight. She was lonely, and her mistakes in life backfired on her. I think that the part of the book that shows us she was a victim was not where she was murdered, but actually, was before we even met her, when the boys were talking about her in the barn. When George and Lennie immediately believe what Candy says and immediately stereotype her. The sentence which most classes Curley’s wife as a victim were the words “I think Curley’s married… a tart.”