Curley's wife: dangerous character or victim of loneliness.

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic

Steinbeck presents Curley's wife in 'Of Mice and Men' as a dangerous character and a victim of loneliness. Discuss.

Flirtatious yet naïve, Curley’s wife is presented throughout the novella ‘Of Mice and Men’ as an enigmatic character who is viewed by different perspectives by all ranch workers. This confuses the reader as it prevents them from having a clear interpretation of her. Similarly, the use of the possessive apostrophe, Curley’s wife is continuously referred to as a possession of her husband, suggesting her insignificance and portraying her as the stereotypical 1930’s woman of America’s prejudiced society who were forced to domestic labour, confining them in their houses.

First introduced by Candy- the ranch swamper as a married woman who ahs ‘got the eye’, Curley’s wife is never given a chance to narrate her side of the story but is instantly stamped with the concrete nouns ‘tart’ and ‘jail-bait’ in the readers mind forewarning them about her possible malicious tendencies which could lead to unwanted trouble. Steinbeck successfully presents Curley’s wife in this chapter as a promiscuous character, creating gossip an expectations that match the reactions of the men, giving the reader a negative impression of her at their first introduction. Nevertheless, her provocative behavior could also suggest that she has been battered emotionally by the conflicted society who has forced her to put on a vindictive mask no matter the circumstances. Furthermore, the fact that she was a victim of the prevailing patriarchal ideology also suggest he naivety as she let herself be trapped by the social idealism and expectations of how a wife should behave an present herself.

Interestingly, Steinbeck describes her throughout the novella in vilifying terms to emphasise her sexual attractiveness and her use of body language to tease men. This is highlighted through symbolism in the quote, ‘I think Curley’s married…a tart.’ As a derogatory statement this could link to the dessert; sweet, tangy and visually appealing but could cause you harm and illness if you consume too much. On the other hand, this could suggest he insignificance as the fact that she is called a ‘tart’ effectively excludes her from the others-dehumanising her into a treat (occasionally awarded to one’s self) making her even more incongruous and ethereal. Similarly the ‘dirty’ adage connoted by Candy-‘he’s keeping his hands soft for his wife’ could suggest that Curley may be forcing her into an intimate intercourse as a subject of gloat to the other ranch workers in order to speak up for his ‘short man syndrome’. However, this could also portray that he may be a source of abuse towards her and to hide away the physical evidence he keeps his hand soft.

In chapter two, Steinbeck successfully manipulates our perceptions of Curley’s wife by building up suspense and tension at her first arrival at the bunk house door. This is demonstrated in the quote, ‘for the rectangle of sunshine in the doorway was cut off’ a paradoxical statement which could foreshadow her death as the use of the quadrilateral ‘rectangle’ could be a symbol; linking with coffins while the stereotypical, positively viewed sunshine suggests happiness and freedom which is ironic as we later learn that Curley’s wife gets neither. On the other hand, this could suggest that she is a barrier; blocking out the men, preventing them from reaching their dreams. This can be interpretated from the word ‘cut’ a visceral verb highlighting her adamancy which could further link back to the ‘sunshine’ which could be referred to as the American dream, which is being blocked out by a woman, portraying them once more as a nuisance. However, the fact that she is ‘smiling archly’ and ‘twitching her body’ could suggest that she is highly paranoid of her insecurity and s trying desperately to seem happy an bold when conversing with the men. This could also link to the letter that Steinbeck wrote to Miss Luce giving her an insight on Curley’s wife as it states that her ‘any show of fear or weakness brought an instant persecution.’ This suggests that her voluptuousness is just a cover, hiding her true feelings and identity.

Steinbeck continuously associates Curley’s wife with the colour red. When she first arrives, she is wearing a ‘red cotton house dress’ and a pair of mules decorated with ‘bouquets of re ostrich feathers’. This emphasises he licentious presence as red is often referred to a as colour of live and passion. Additionally, the bouquets of ostrich feathers, on the insteps of her shoes would have been extremely expensive in the times ‘Of Mice and Men’ was set and the fact that |Curley’s wife wears them in the time of the ‘Great Depression’ expresses her desperate need for attention as she is willing to possibly ruin her best shoes in order to entice the ranchers and be noticed. Nevertheless, most men treat her as a ticket to disaster that had better be left alone. This is demonstrated in the quote ‘scowled down away from her eyes’ making it apparent that Crooks and Candy are both disdainful when she appears at the barn. Furthermore, the prevention of eye contact could suggest that the men mistrust her or they do not feel the need to dignify her with eye contact. Either way, the use of the word ‘scowling’ suggests that the presence of Curley’s wife displeases Candy and Crooks.

Steinbeck, later skillfully manipulates our perceptions of her again by hinting at her vulnerabilities and unhappiness and her lost future through the use of her colloquial language. This suggests that she may never get her dream as she is uneducated and to be a famous and respected celebrity she needs to speak properly. Her misuse of the English language is highlighted in the quote, ‘an’ a guy tol’ me he could put me in pitchers.’ This suggests that even though she has high ambitions an id pretty, he colloquial intone has formed an invisible glass barrier between her and success so that no matter how hard she tries, there will always be an invisible wall stopping her.  This helps the reader sympathise with her as they may be able to relate to her with their daily life. Furthermore, the fact that all her words are half completed could suggest that she has unconsciously given up as somewhere in her mind she knows that her dreams shall never be fulfilled causing her to speak in a slow and lazy drawl.

Nevertheless, Curley’s wife can be cruel and willing to misuse her power. Her attitude shocks the reader as she explodes at Crooks in a series of threatening comments after he sticks up for himself, ‘I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny’. This manipulates the reader, confusing them as they had started to feel some empathy for her. Nevertheless, in this encounter we begin to realise the cause of her hostility as her sneers link her to her husband as now they both transmit a vicious and brutal personality which suggests that her negative charisma destined her to end up with him. However, this could also suggest that she is desperate to array her power and it tired of being empowered by other all the time. Furthermore, the fact that she uses ‘could’ instead of ‘will’ also suggests that she knows that it will never happen but is still anticipating the thought. Moreover, it could also suggest that she is using reverse psychology, linking her to Lennie; proposing that they may be similar in their many ‘childlike’ ways as Lennie has a mental disability and Curley’s wife is still a teenager.

In chapter five, Steinbeck allows Curley’s wife to articulate her feelings of loneliness when she makes her last appearance in the barn while all then men are playing horseshoe. She slowly opens up to Lennie-despite his lack of interest, the reader gains more and more knowledge about the truth of Curley’s wife personality; her innocence and dire need for escape to fulfill her dreams despite the circumstances. The true pureness of her character is expressed only after her death when her face is described as ‘sweet and young’ and the ‘ache for attention was all gone from her face.’ The use of the word ‘ache’ could imply that Curley’s wife’s need for attention was so strong that it hurt her-it hurt her personality causing her to hide her feelings. Furthermore, the atmosphere caused by Curley’s wife’s death, and the realization that she never really intended to be a ‘floozy’, is supported by the use of pathetic fallacy-‘the sun streaks were high on the wall’ as it could portray the change in Curley’s wife’s mood and appearance as she’s finally at peace.

Steinbeck successfully link Curley’s wife with the themes of loneliness and dreams as despite all the revelations about her personality, her death is caused by her never ending need for attention as she insists that Lennie touch her hair even after he reveals that many things he pets end up dead, foreshadowing her fate which she ignores for a chance at friendship. This links to all the men of the 1930’s who roamed about the country alone in search for jobs without any friends; trusting no one and keeping all their dreams and secrets to themselves in fear of being told on. Furthermore, the fact that she keeps pursuing her dream and believes that her ‘old lady’ has hidden her letter highlights her naivety and childish innocence as she gets married to a man she meets at the ‘Riverside Dance Palace’ and barely knows; implementing her display of frustration and emotions as she struggles blindly in the hope of becoming an actress. This links her to the dream of George and Lennie which had been just around the corner but got snatched away by an easily avoided situation.

To conclude, I think that Steinbeck successfully presents Curley’s wife in a rather one dimensional manner and it isn’t until the reader views her at a deeper insight that they realise, she is misunderstood throughout the novella as although she seems a rather complicated and often sinister character, she never intended to be or thought herself as a floozy or a mean person and although at times she was presented as one, subtle hints always arose explaining why she was acting that way and that her true personality was not shinning through.

Submitted: February 04, 2017

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