In Of Mice and Men Steinbeck presents many characters that are extremely insecure about themselves and their future. Curley is arguably one of the most insecure of them all, despite his position as the boss’s son. His insecurities mostly stem from his small stature, and he goes to great lengths to compensate for this – including violence. He is a boxer, after all. For this reason we can be certain that Curley is a danger to others. In examining this claim, a good place to start is Steinbeck’s use of setting.
Most of Curley’s appearances are in the bunk house, which is described as, “whitewashed,” and, “unpainted.” The dismal setting portrays how bleak the lives of the itinerant workers are, and the fact that Curley goes here to pick a fight just proves his inferiority complex. He has to pick on the weak in society to make himself feel better. Another thing to note in Steinbeck’s presentation of the bunkhouse is that there were, “small, square windows.” This use of alliteration emphasises that the bunkhouse must have been quite dim, representing an absence of hope. It also tells us that Curley prefers to hide in the shadows, striking when it is least expected. In this way the setting conveys that he is a danger to others.
Furthermore, his actions are a key way to examine his character. The way Steinbeck presents his actions paints him as nothing more than an impulsive, short tempered scoundrel. We are told that, “Curley’s rage exploded,” when he saw Lennie laughing. The violent verb, “exploded,” portrays that he can rapidly swing from relative calmness to outright violence in a matter of seconds, with very little provocation. This proves he is a danger to others. Lennie, “tried to retreat,” but Curley disregarded this and continued, “slugging him in the face.” This conveys how pathetic Curley really is – the fight is completely one sided. In fact, it would be more appropriate to describe it as an assault than a fight. It is only logical to conclude that a man capable of such a crime is a danger to others.
His actions elsewhere in the novel back up the assertion that he is a danger to others. When he is first introduced to George and Lennie we are told that, “His gaze was at once calculating and pugnacious.” Right from the beginning of the novella Steinbeck presents him as someone who is untrusting of others, always on the offensive. His actions after discovering the death of his wife also prove how heartless he is, especially when compared to Slim’s tender handling of the incident. We read that, “Curley carried a shot gun in his good hand. Curley was cold now.” Curley’s first reaction is to receive revenge for the killing. He shows no signs of grief. He is simply, “cold.” This demonstrates that he is a danger to others, because his compulsive actions always revolve around violence.
Moving on, dialogue is very important when examining Curley’s personality. Steinbeck arguably places more emphasis on dialogue than anything else over the course of his novella. The characters speak with a combination of slang and phonetic spelling, somewhat of a linguistic shibboleth that proves they are of the poorer working class. Even Curley, with his slight economic advantage, still comes off as sounding rough and slightly intimidating.
Curley tries to taunt Lennie into taking the first hit, by using coarse language such as, “son-of-a-bitch,” and, “ya big bastard.” The latter insult is a product of his insecurity about his height. After all, we are told elsewhere in the novel that, “Curley’s like a lot of little guys. He hates big guys.” Curley not only poses a danger physically, but emotionally as well. He enjoys insulting and belittling others. This is, of course, a common trait of a bully – they try to cover up their own failings by taking it out on others. This incident with Lennie proves to be extremely demeaning for him. Even in the latter chapters one of the reasons he tries to have Lennie lynched, according to Slim, is that, “Curley’s still mad about his hand.” He is presented as being obsessed with revenge, without doubt posing a danger to anyone that would try and stop him.
Elsewhere in the novel Steinbeck uses Curley’s wife to present how universally disliked he is. We are told that he has a, “glove fulla Vaseline,” so he can, “keep that hand soft for his wife.” This portrays him as a self-centred pervert that views his wife as nothing but a possession. His wife laments that, “I don’t like Curley. He ain’t a nice fella.” His wife of a few days already has developed distain for him. If the person he is supposed to be closest to says this, his self-gratifying personality must be a danger to others.
However, this could be too harsh an analysis. It could be argued that Curley is just as lonely as the rest of the ranch men and that the only way he can gain a semblance of respect from the other men is to prove that he is powerful. During the incident with his hand his tough exterior melts, revealing his true personality. We are told that, “he stood crying.” This is a vast dissimilarity to his previous behaviour. Through this presentation Steinbeck proves that he is nowhere near as tough as he makes himself out to be.
We also get hints that he is afraid of the other men, especially Slim and Carlson. Carlson tells his, “you’re as yella as a frog’s belly,” and even old Candy joins in to taunt him. Curley never dares to fight them. Perhaps Steinbeck intended us to pity Curley, a man that in different circumstances may not have posed any danger to others. It could be argued that Curley is simply a product of the harsh time in which he lived, where he had no choice but to fight in order to survive. Maybe all he craves is acceptance.
To conclude, Steinbeck presents Curley as a man that is dangerous to only certain types of men. He is undoubtedly dangerous for the mice of the ranch, such as Lennie. However, he poses no danger to those that are confident enough to rebuke him. His aggressiveness is little more than a façade. He embodies how harsh live was in 1930s America.