How Steinbeck presents the character of Curley’s wife in “of Mice and Men”?
In the John Steinbeck’s novel “of Mice and Men” he introduces us to the character of Curley’s wife. She could be interpreted as a mis-fitting character in the novel as no one relates to her. Steinbeck relates her to how women were powerless during 1930’s and makes her seem desperately lonely and isolated from the others on the ranch. She has sexual power which she uses to get to the men on the ranch and she just needs someone to talk to. She dislikes her husband and had a desire to become a movie star. She is not seem as an individual and has no name. This shows how a woman belonged to their husband. This essay is going to examine in detail how Curley’s wife has been presented in this novel.
Steinbeck presents her as a negative married woman. She has been presented first through the dialogue of ranch-hand Candy when he describes her to George. His opinion is very sexist towards Curley’s wife as he says “Curley married...a tart”. This shows Steinbeck presents her in a very crude manner. The word “tart” shows the immediate impression and effect Curley’s wife has on the other men on the ranch. Steinbeck used this effect because he wants to show the reader the first impression the man have about Curley’s wife. This affects the reader to pre-judge Curley’s wife even before she entered.
She has been portrayed as dangerous. When Curley’s wife first appears both George and Lennie notices “...the rectangle of sunshine in the doorway is cut off”. This suggests that Curley’s wife is like darkness. She is also dangerous and brings only trouble to ranch hands because when she appears their “sunshine” is cut off. Light represents hope in this novel. The fact that light/sunshine has been cut off links back to the idea that Curley’s wife will stand between their dream and future and may take away their happiness and dream just like darkness.
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Steinbeck presents her as being very flirty and in need for attention. She is described as “she has full rouged lips and wide spaced eyes and heavily made up. Her hair was hung in little rolled clusters, like sausages”. This part about her hair could be taken as an insult and she has failed to make herself attractive. This can also shows how she makes the effort and dresses to attract sexual attraction from the ranch hands. “...rouged lips ... fingernails...red, red mules...of red ostrich feathers”. The repetition of colour red could be interpreted as a colour of danger and she brings only danger to people. It can also represent as a sexual colour which she uses to gain attention from the ranch hands. She strives for attention; by always wearing a lot of makeup and bright clothing she gets the attention she desires so much. On the other hand her appearance could be seen as naive and youthful and red is bright and has an element of happiness to it. But Curley’s wife is the only woman on the ranch, she has no other woman to talk to or be friends with and therefore seen as a sexual object by the ranch hands. She uses this sexual image on the ranch hands to gain attention and seen as flirty person.
Curley’s wife has her lack of identity. Steinbeck never mentions the actual name of this character but rather refers to her as “Curley’s Wife” throughout the novel this implies that she is not considered as a single individual but rather a possession and a trophy wife of her husband. Steinbeck not naming this particular character links back to how during the Great Depression of the 1930’s women were greatly kept down and were not treated as equal to men. The lack of name also shows Curley’s wife having a very little status. Curley’s wife herself even seems to understand that her role on the ranch is very unimportant. This also shows that she herself is not bothered to the fact that she and other women like her around the country is treated as they are second class citizen.
Curley’s wife has been portrayed to have a racist attitude towards Crooks. When she says “well, you keep your place then, Nigger”. This shows even though she is younger, she has no respect and thinks herself a lot more better than Crooks because she is married to Curley. She made this comment towards Crooks for attention because she didn’t feel noticed. She uses the fact she is a defenceless woman against Crooks is very racist towards him. The word “nigger” is considered as a very racist word and shows extreme lack of respect. But at time, the social attitudes towards black people were extremely racist and Curley’s wife chose to be racist towards Crooks as he is the most weak and least able to defend himself.
Steinbeck links Curley’s wife with the American Dream upon numerous occasions. It is shown by”...could a been in the movies, an’ had nice clothes”. It implies Curley’s wife American Dream was to become an actress in Hollywood. The fact that she is still on the ranch implies that her dream remained unfulfilled which maybe one of the reasons everyone finds her to be unconvincing and aggravating especially to other ranch members considering she has missed an immense opportunity. This is the first time Curley’s wife seemed more ordinary. The fact the Curley’s wife dream did not come true also links back to the idea of American dream that making of the dream happen in reality during the Depression of 1930’s was not an easy thing to achieve.
Steinbeck portrayed Curley’s wife as a lonely person because of her sex. She is excluded for being female, she often found searching for companionship on the ranch as her newly found marriage does not give the affection she desires as she states to Lennie “I don’t like Curley...he ain’t a nice fella...ranch ain’t no place for a girl”. The fact that she is excluded from a place of physical work indicates how women were portrayed during 1930’s. America was a male dominated country therefore women were not expected to do work but instead at home and raise a family. Curley’s wife feels insecure because of the loneliness she feels and it is made clear that she is frustrated with this situation.
Steinbeck uses light and dark to represent Curley’s wife death. After Curley’s wife has died “the sun streaks were high on the wall by now and the light was growing soft in the barn”. The barn’s light was “growing soft” implies that Curley’s wife fades away slowly. Her life and hope just ends like the light in the barn. The change of the light also shows the change of time that another new day is on its way which means all those belonged to yesterday will become the past. The outside sunshine is bright and the death of Curley’s wife is dark these two compose a direct contrast and Steinbeck is trying to make the whole setting full of sorrow.
Steinbeck portrays Curley’s wife as a young child in her death. When she dies “the meanness of death and the planning and the discontent and the ache for attention and were all gone from her face. She was very pretty...simple...sweet ... young”. This shows after all the stress and things life had placed on her, she has finally relaxed in her death. The word “pretty...simple...sweet ... young” implies how young she was and how she had so much unhappiness in such a short life time. Her beauty ruined her in a way, as that was the main cause of her disappointment with action. It also makes her seem so young like a child whom Steinbeck is trying to make the reader automatically sorry for her and guilty in a way of thinking her as a negative woman.
In conclusion, my opinion is that Curley’s Wife does seek attention; however this is only because she has been dispossessed of attention throughout her life. Her unwilling marriage to Curley, the fact that she could not accomplish her dream and her having a lack of friends and reverence made me feel regretful about my first impression of her. Steinbeck presents Curley’s Wife in an apathetic way which robustly influences the readers to have a negative image of her. Nevertheless, as the novel reaches its end this negative feeling received by the reader soon changes into that of commiseration. Steinbeck has created a three dimensional character for us to feel sympathetic towards.
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This is a promising essay; in particular in that it has a very competent introduction and conclusion and the aims set out in the introduction are generally carried out in the main body. The analysis covers most of the evidence illustrating Curley's wife's character, with the notable exception of the very telling scene in Crooks' room. Her attitude to Crooks in terms of the general cultural assumptions of the time is described, but not the cruelty of her put-down of the stable boy. This very important side of her is missed. Paragraph structure is well controlled but there is considerable sloppiness in sentence construction and punctuation. This could have been corrected by reading through the essay before submitting it. Lexis is generally up to the task. 3 stars