Steinbeck shows us power in many different ways, Physical, Personal, Financial Power and Power of Seduction the novel was set in the 1930’s when power meant a lot to a lot of people. This meant that people would do anything to get respected! In the 1930’s the world was a different place to what it is now, a lot of racial division and an economic crisis which would last well over a decade. Steinbeck uses real- life scenarios and portrays it in the book.
Power of Seduction (Curley’s Wife)
When we think of Seduction, Curley’s Wife comes into mind, she is the only woman on the ranch and is not treated well by the way Steinbeck describes her. The men on the ranch refer to her as “tramp” or “tart” and “looloo” as though she is not married and is one to sleep with many men. Curley’s wife is never given a name and is only referred to her husband. The first mention of Curley’s wife was when Candy describes her to George in the bunk house. Candy gives us a strong impression that Curley’s wife is flirtatious and even promiscuous female before we even meet her.
As he says that “she’s get the eye” which means instead of being faithful to her husband. She tends to look for other male ranchers. But Curley, her husband does not recognize her as a person but more like a sexual object, Candy said that “he’s keepin’ that hand soft for his wife” this shows us Curley uses he wife as a trophy and she was never given a name in the novella, she is only treated as a possession of Curley and how no one else on the ranch wanted to get to know her but avoid her instead.
We first set eyes on Curley’s wife in the bunk house, when she pretends to be looking for Curley the impression of Curley’s wife being flirtatious is emphasized as she dresses inappropriately for a women married to the boss’s son “she had full, rouged lips and wide spaced eyes, her fingernails are red and her hair hung in little rolled clusters, like sausages” which in my opinion red shows sign of danger besides from this, she both talk and acts playfully and flirtatiously in front of other ranchers “she said playfully”.
Candy’s description of Curley’s wife seems accurate after her first appearance in the novel. In this situation George notices this and tries to avoid having conversation with her, using short answers like “Well he ain’t now. ” This is because he thinks Curley’s wife is “Jail bait” before getting to know Curley’s wife and the reason why she is this way. Curley's wife at one point in the book tells Crooks, "You know what I can do to you." She is expressing here the power of her position as a white woman speaking to a dark skinned man.
The idea of the power and powerlessness of social position is well developed in Of Mice and Men and is intertwined with the other modes of power discussed here. Power of Strength (Lennie) Lennie is physically the strongest character in the book. He is ‘as strong as a bull’ and is frequently compared to strong animals – 'bear like' and when he crushes Curley’s hand in his massive ‘paw’. George tells the boss and also Slim about Lennie’s amazing strength: other guys can’t keep up and he can lift massive weights of.
However he has a weakness as well, although we aren’t sure how it happened he is mentally retarded. We know this because of quotes that are childish and his naivety. ,’I remember about the rabbit. ’ Despite Lennie’s physical strength, he is gentle and cowed by George at the start of the book. The violence of George’s language is almost abusive - ‘crazy bastard’ is repeated, and George seizes the mouse. This catches the reader’s interest into the contrast of how someone so strong and big could be controlled, and why the mood is so extreme.
We later see George as more of a parent, ‘Lennie looked helplessly at George’, and the semantic field of children/helplessness is often used for Lennie ‘‘Blubbering like a baby’. So we understand George is exasperated, not abusive. He later talks to Slim about abusing his power over Lennie in Auburn – where he told him to ‘jump in’ and Lennie ‘clean forgot’ he couldn’t swim’ and was so ‘grateful’ to him after, George says “I ain’t done nothin’ like that no more”. He cares for Lennie.
This care is most clearly seen in contrast to Curley’s reaction to Lennie. When Curley is hitting lennie in the face George tells lennie ‘let him have it ‘ ‘let him have it lennie’ This then exhibits lennies strength as he crushes curleys hand in his ‘paw’. We can see George cares for him as he was urging him on to stand up for himself and hit curly. Curley is powerful and this makes him cruel – whereas George is compassionate. Curley is ‘handy’, like a ‘terrier’ that won’t let go until Lennie’s face is covered in ‘blood’, he’s shrieking in ‘terror’.
Curley is portrayed with active, violent verbs ‘stabbing’ and ‘slashing’ at Lennie. Curlys wife, who theoretically should have a lot of power being Curleys wife, doesn’t. This mainly to the fact she is the only women on the farm leading her to being a target for verbal abuse, possibly because the other men are jealous as they don’t have a wife. She’s both below and above them, and they direct violent sexist comments like ‘looloo’, ‘tart’ at her, saying ‘she got the eye’.
She has power over them through her sexual allure, but it frightens them. George says she’s ‘poison’, ‘trouble’ ‘jailbait’ and a ‘rattrap’: this violent language shows how weak he feels when she’s around. Yet, she’s desperately lonely and they have no respect for her, though they fear her. Unlike Curley, Slim has natural authority. Steinbeck portrays him using the semantic field of religion: ‘confession’, with hands like ‘a temple dancer’ and makes even Curley bow to his authority as Carlson says Curley better not go for Slim.
When Curley’s hand is crushed, Slim makes him keep quiet and at the end of the novel he counsels George to take the hard course and shoot Lennie. Moreover many physical weaknesses are displayed throughout the novel. Disability is one of the main themes, not only does Lennie come under this but Crooks and Candy. Crooks although considered the lowest authority on the farm possesses. He is intelligent and reads ‘has a copy of the Californian law code. ’ In addition he also has a strong sense of his rights, which is partially a weakness at the same time as he is black.
Back in 1937 black people had no rights. A crook also expresses a physical weakness as well, his bad back which does allow him to do strong physical labour. One of the most ironic weaknesses of them all is Candy; although working on a farm is 99% labour Candy doesn’t have a hand. When the workers can’t work, they’re no use and Candy says “I wisht someone’d shoot me”. In conclusion, Steinbeck wrote that he wrote Of Mice and Men to show the triumph of the human spirit against “weakness and despair” that friendship and kindness is the “great rally flag of hope”.
He questions traditional ideas of strength, and shows that power should not be abused – but that it’s easily done. He shows that cruelty breeds more cruelty and so George’s compassion towards Lennie stands out even more brightly. Steinbeck said when he wrote the book that he wanted to celebrate: ‘greatness of heart and spirit’; ‘gallantry [nobility] in defeat’; ‘courage, compassion, and love.’ are key in the ‘endless war against weakness and despair’ and to celebrate ‘hope.’