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  • Level: GCSE
  • Subject: English
  • Essay length: 1501 words

Of mice and men - Examine Steinbeck’s presentation of Curley’s wife - Does this character, in your opinion, deservepity or contempt?

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Examine Steinbeck's presentation of Curley's wife. Does this character, in your opinion, deserve pity or contempt? Curley's wife is one of the most significant characters in John Steinbeck's novel "Of mice and men," although we never learn her name. We learn about her through her own words and actions and also through other characters' descriptions and opinions of her. Before Curley's wife makes her first appearance, she is introduced to us through Candy's opinion of her. He tells George that, although she has only been married to Curley for two weeks, she has already "got the eye." He also describes he as "a tart" that has been flirting with both Slim and Carlson. Curley's wife's first appearance is dramatic. She suddenly appears in the open doorway, cutting off the bright sunlight, as if she has brought the darkness with her. The reader is already influenced by Candy's description of her so that when Steinbeck describes her as having "full rouged lips and wide-spaced eyes, heavily made up" we see this as confirmation of her being "a tart." Equally, it could simply mean that she takes pride in her appearance and tries to get noticed. However, she does flaunt herself " she smiled archly and twisted her body" and is clearly aware that Lennie is fascinated with her. George's first impression of Curley's wife is that she is "a tramp" and the worst "piece of jail-bait" he has ever seen.


I never get to talk to nobody. I get awful lonely." In this scene she also shows that she can be gentle and comforting, firstly when Lennie is upset about killing the puppy and secondly when she lets him stroke her hair. She talks again about her dream, "I tell you I ain't used to livin' like this. I coulda made somethin' of myself." Steinbeck reveals her almost pathetic need for someone to talk to, "her words tumbled out in a passion of communication, as though she hurried before her listener could be taken away." This shows how desperate she is for someone who will listen to her thoughts and feelings. Many of the other characters in the novel certainly have contempt for Curley's wife. They feel she is a troublemaker. Candy calls her a tart and even when she is dead he says to her "you god-damn tramp...Ever'body knowed you'd mess things up. You wasn't no good." However, I feel that she deserves pity rather than contempt. Her husband is insensitive and aggressive. Although they have only been married for a fortnight, he is already visiting a brothel. She admits to Lennie in the barn "I don't like Curley. He ain't a nice fella." He is also very possessive, which adds to her loneliness. As she tells Lennie, "I can't talk to nobody but Curley.


Neither Steinbeck nor any of the other characters in the novel ever refer to her by her own name, only as "Curley's wife." This is significant because it reflects the fact that she is seen as one of Curley's possessions rather than a person in her own right. Even the black stable hand, Crooks, who one would imagine would be given less respect than anyone else on the ranch, is referred to byname. Her attention to her appearance and attempts to make an impression on the men could be seen as a way of trying to get back her own individuality. She tries to impress Lennie with her talk of the chance she had of becoming a movie star but it makes the reader feel sympathy towards her because it was obviously an unrealistic ambition. One pities the fact that all her dreams are in the past with no prospect of coming true, and all she has to look forward to is loneliness and disappointment. Even George and Lennie's dream of their own ranch, although unrealistic, is more likely to come true than hers. In conclusion, therefore, in my opinion Curley's wife deserves pity rather than contempt. She does have human failings but she certainly did not deserve to die. Above all, she was a deeply lonely person and her "ache for attention" led directly to her death. If she had met the right man she might have become a loving wife and mother, but the situation she found herself in led to tragedy. Bettina Saunders

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