‘Of Mice and Men’ by John Steinbeck is a novel set in 1920 in America this is around the time of The Great Depression and George and Lennie –the two main characters- are two itinerant workers who are supposed to represent working class men of that time.
We are presented with the interesting character of Curley’s wife and this essay will consider how the reader’s attitude changes towards her throughout the text.We are first introduced to Curley’s wife when she is supposedly looking for Curley. Steinbeck makes the reader think that Curley’s wife is dangerous and a ‘tart’ by focusing on her physical presences such as her ‘fingernails [that] were red’, ‘rouged lips’ and ‘red mules’. Stienbeck is highlighting the colour red, which traditionally symbolizes danger and also Curley’s wife’s sexuality, which in that era was a very negative trait for women. The reader should clearly see that her provocative behaviour as a threat when Stienbeck tells us that she ‘bridles a little’ and ‘throws her body forward’.
When the reader next comes across Curley’s wife it is when the other men are discussing her and she is view by them as ‘tart’. Slim a narrative character and whom the reader is encouraged to listen to tells us early on that he thinks Curley’s wife is a ‘looloo’ and he goes on to say ‘she ain’t concealin’ nothin’ ’ Stienbeck clearly wants the reader to view her as a ‘tart’ by having Slim, the most respected character, tell us that he thinks she ‘can’t keep away from guys’ this confirms any doubts the reader may be having as to what sort of a person we are to perceive Curley’s wife to be. When it is said that she is ‘jail bait all set on a trigger’ the reader is being reminded that we are supposed to be aware of the trouble she may bring. George also warns Lennie not to even ‘look at that bitch’ he also says that he hasn’t seen any ‘piece of jail bait worse than her’ Stienbeck uses the fact that Lennie is childlike and so George has to warn him about her to again tell the reader that she should be seen as a threat.We are told about how young and naïve Curley’s wife when she talks about being a film star. Stienbeck indicates that she is young by telling us her face lost its ‘sullenness’ being sullen is usually associated with teenagers.
Curley’s wife tells us ‘a guy tol’ ’ her that he could ‘put me in pitchers’ this shows us how naïve she is by thinking that this man was actually going to make her a film star. Later on in the novel she tells Lennie how she believed her ‘ol’ lady stole it [her letter about becoming an actress]’ Stienbeck makes us understand how innocent and therefore young she is by showing us that she genuinely believed that her mother took her letter when it is more likely she didn’t get one in the first place.We are told how powerless Curley’s wife is as a character in the scene with Crook’s room. Stienbeck shows the reader how insignificant women were view as in that era by having a scene with Crooks, Lennie, Candy and Curley’s wife. They are the four weakest characters: Crooks because he is black and in that era racism was normal; Lennie because he is so childlike and can’t really think for himself; Candy because he was old and not of much use to anyone and Curley’s wife because she is woman in that time women were not considered to be important.
When Curley’s wife starts to threaten Crooks we as the reader are brought to realize that she only does this to gain a sense of power and she knows that the ‘nigger’ is the only person she could conceivably be more powerful than. Stienbeck wants us to realise how little importance women were given in that era by not actually giving Curley’s wife a name. This puts into context that actually Crooks potentially does have more power than Curley’s wife because he is a man.During the barn scene with Lennie the reader understands how lonely Curley’s wife is.
Steinbeck highlights how lonely and unhappy she is when she say ‘I never get to talk to nobody’ The writer is telling us that even though close bonds like George and Lennie’s were rare the men had each other for company and to talk to. The reader is being shown how Curley’s wife has nobody except Curley and she gets ‘awful lonely’. When Lennie says that he isn’t allowed to be talking to Curley’s wife she say that she isn’t “doing no harm” this just proves how desperate she is to talk to someone. In the barn scene the reader finds out that Curley’s wife doesn’t like Curley.
Curley’s wife opens up to Lennie and says straight off ‘I don’t like Curley’ she goes on to say ‘he ain’t a nice fella’. At this point Steinbeck wants the reader to sympathies with Curley’s wife as we already know she is relatively young she may not have realised what she was taking on when she married him. We also find out that Curley’s wife isn’t a mean person at heart. Previously the reader has been told that she is a ‘tart’ and a ‘bitch’ but when Lennie tells her about the puppy her first reaction was to ‘console’ him and she tells him not to worry.
This shows that despite all the acts she may put on to be noticed underneath she is a kind person.After Curley’s wife has died Stienbeck tells us that she looked ‘sweet and young’ also that ‘the ache for attention had all gone from her face’. Steinbeck clearly wants the reader to feel sympathy for her and he does this by portraying her as an innocent girl who has done nothing wrong. Stienbeck tries to make the reader understand that her being a ‘tart’ was all an act on her part to get attention seeing as she was lonely and really just wanted someone to talk to. She is said to have looked ‘pretty and simple’ it should now be understood that the reader is supposed to realise that all the feelings we had for her before we misconceptions and she is really just this ‘young’ girl who was unhappy and lonely.Our attitude towards Curley’s wife changes throughout the novel.
At the start the reader’s first impressions of her are that she is a dangerous character that she is a ‘bitch’. The men also believe this and they tell us that she is a ‘tart’ and ‘she can’t keep away from guys’. Then Stienbeck start to show us that she is lonely during the scene in Crook’s room then the reader also understand that she has no one to talk to. During the scene with Lennie the reader’s attitude changes towards her and Stienbeck wants the reader to sympathies with her they realise how unhappy she is.Through the use of imagery, symbolism and a variety of other techniques Stienbeck presents the character of Curley’s wife as a lonely girl and because of this a great sense of loss is felt by the reader at the end of the novel when she is killed.