Curley's wife is a complex, main character in John Steinbeck's novella, "Of Mice and Men" She is introduced at the beginning and ultimately causes the end of the novella, her naivity and flirtatiousness leading to her inevitable death at the hand of Lennie, confused and scared by her forwardness and eventual unrest.
She is first introduced by Candy, the swamper, who describes her from his perpsective to George and Lennie. The fact that Curley's wife is introduced through rumours means that the reader already has a biased opinion of Curley's wife before she even enters the section. Candy mentions that she, "got the eye" explaining that she is flirtatious and immoral in that wea re hit with the fact that she flirts with other men immediately after it is stated thatshe is married to Curley. Already, the reader is introduced to the idea that Curley's wife is an immoral "tart" which is strengthened upon her first appearance, which follows shortly after.
She is first seen in the doorway of the bunkhouse , asking about the location of her husband, which is soon revealed as being a weak excuse to interact with the ranchers. She is wearing a "red cotton house dress" and a pair of mules decorated with "bouquets of red ostrich feathers." emphasisinig her sexual presence as the colour red, which is expressed repeatedly when Curley's wife's clothes are described, is often reffered to as the colour of love and passion. Additionally, the bouquets of ostrich feathers, also described as red, on the insteps of her shoes would have been extremely expensive in the times Of Mice and Men was set; and that Curley's wife not only wears them on her feet but in the middle of the 'Dust Bowl' expresses her desperate need for attention as she is willing to possibly ruin her best shoes in order to entice the ranchers, despite the fact that she has a husband.
Not only is Curley's wife described as being a floozy but she is also described as being threatening. Upon entering Crooks's room, it is apparent that Crooks and Candy are afraid of her when they both, "scowled down away from her eyes." this deliberate prevention of eye contact could suggest that the men have a fear of Curley's wife or that they do not feel the need to dignify her with eye contact. The use of the word " scowling" means that either way, the presence of Curley's wife displeases Candy and Crooks. Eventually Curley's wife explodes at Crooks in a series of threatening comments after he sticks up for himself, "I could get you strung up so easy." Crooks then retracts all emotion and becomes very weak and submissive because of Curley's wife's threats. On the other hand, in this encounter you begin to realise the cause of her hostility, as it mentions that Curley's wife would like to "bust him." referring to Curley. The fact that Curley's wife has admitted that sometimes she would like to hurt Curley hints at domestic abuse as throughout the novel, Curley is described as violent and now that Curley's wife has admitted that despite being his wife, she would like to hurt him, creates the idea that Curley gives her a reason. If Curley's wife does infact suffer domestic abuse then this may partially excuse her hostility as she is mirroring the only atmosphere she is around whilst in the presence of her husband.
Curley's wife's last appearance has a drastic effect on how she is presented in the novella. Whilst all the other ranchers are playing horseshoe, Lennie is sat in the barn and is soon approached by Curley's wife. An interesting part about her character is explained by Irony used cleverly by Steinbeck. Her dream of being in the limelight is unrealistic as all she ever does is cast shadows and attract negative attention. When she entered the barn the, "sunshine in the doorway was cut off." not only portraying her as a negative influence but also foreshadowing her dismal end in the barn. Although,as 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's personality, her innocence and dire need for escape and the drive to fulfill her dream that still remains, despite the circumstances.The true pureness of her character is expressed only upon her death, where her face is described as being, "sweet and young" and the "ache for attention was all gone for her face." The use of the word ache implies that Curley's wife's need for attention was so strong that it hurt her, true in the fact that it did indeed hurt her personality. In accordance with the new atmosphere caused by Curley's wife's death, and the realisation that she was never a floozy, the "sun streaks where high on the walls" and the barn was light again. This may be evidence of pathetic fallacy in that the levels of light and atmosphere reflect Curley's wife's changing mood and appearance.
Ultimately, despite all of the revelations about Curley's wife's personality in the final scene, her death is caused by her never ending need for attention in that once Lennie reveals that he likes to pet soft things she offers up her hair, despite him telling her that many things he pet end up dead, which is foreshadowing Curley's wife's fate.
It is apparent that Curley's wife's anger stems from continuous betrayal by men and an unmet need for attention which is the factor that helps fuel her dream of becoming an actress. This is expressed throughout the novella in that Curley's wife often mentions thatshe "coulda been in the movies." but a letter starting her career, promised by a hollywood producer she met at the Riverside Dance palace, never arrived. Naively, Curley's wife believed that her protective aunt stole the letter. This lead to Curley's wife leaving home as she believed her aunt was holding her back and her dream of becoming an actress was so strong she would not let anything get in the way. In leaving home she met Curley, who's anger, coupled with her residual anger caused by the betrayals and her lack of attention forced her to build layers over her true personality. This ultimately presented Curley's wife as an angry woman, who's seductive clothing and flirtatious gestures draw in the attention she so much desires but never used to recieve; but further analysis shows she is so much deeper.
Additionally, Curley's wife is seen only as a posession of Curley, rather like a trophy wife. The fact that Steinbeck writes the characters as never once mentioning her real name prevents the likeliness of her having a personal relationship with anyone on the ranch, including her husband. This disassociation with the boss and his son, her wife, distances her from the powers of the ranch. But in turn, her association with the authority in that she lives in the boss's house and is married to the boss's son prevents her from building a relationship with the ranchers as she is seen as a woman of power; despite the fact that she is actually very low in the heirarchy of the ranch, in terms of her freedom and rights. This extreme loneliness changed Curley's wife, leading her to knock down those of low stature on the ranch in order to make herself feel important and authoritive. This is shown when she enters Crooks's room and says, "they left all the weak ones here" suggesting that she considers herself higher in stature than Crooks, Candy and Lennie even though she is displayed as so unimportant that Steinbeck does not even dignify her with a name.
To summarize, I believe Curley's wife, although being a complicated and often sinister character, never intended to be or thought of 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 shining through.
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