Explain the importance of Curley’s Wife in the novel
- Symbols – red lipstick
- Not given a name
Curley’s wife may seem an insignificant character because she has not even been given a name by Steinbeck. Her name suggests that she is nothing more than one of Curley’s possessions. When she first appears in the novel, she is dressed up as if she is planning on going out into town, rather than just spending her day wandering around the ranch. The image of her being a sex object is emphasised by the fact that Curley keeps a ‘glove fulla Vaseline’, for her benefit. However, Curley’s wife is influential to the book as she characterises loneliness, the longing for the American dream, danger and sexism. Her appearances in the novel are extremely important at they change the entire mood of the scene in which she appears in.
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We see that the first time we are introduced to Curley’s wife, she is heavily made up; “full, rouged lips”, “red fingernails” and “red mules”. The colour red symbolises danger and sexiness, and the fact that she is wearing these items creates a sense of foreboding that she will be the cause of George and Lennie’s failure to achieve their dream of having their own plot of land. Another symbol is shown by “the rectangle of sunshine in the doorway was cut off”. This immediately creates a sense of danger and doom in the reader’s mind due to the absence of light. However, we can see that the reason for Curley’s wife being flirtatious is because she wants to get away from the loneliness that surrounds her. By flirting, it means she can communicate with other men who otherwise would not talk to her because they do not want any trouble with Curley. However, by being flirtatious, she actually increases the hostility of the other men on the ranch as they become suspicious. We can see that she tells Lennie; “I get lonely…Ain’t I got the right to talk to nobody?” However, she then explains the reason behind her flirtatious nature; “I can’t talk to nobody but Curley. Else he gets mad.” However, we actually see that the marriage between them is already starting to break down because Curley thinks that his wife is “givin Slim the eye”.
Curley’s wife is also important as she conveys the theme of sexism. We see that Curley, who keeps his hand soft for her, regards her as a sexual object. Instead of showing any consideration towards his wife, Curley only wants to increase his sexual prowess. The only way in which Curley’s wife can talk to other men is by; “dolling up”. However, when she does this, they talk even less to her, driving her behaviour further. Therefore, she remains excluded from everyone. We even see that Whit regards Susy higher than Curley’s wife; “a laugh” and “hell of a nice place”. This is a rare time when any woman in the novel is actually shown any kindness, and a complement.
Curely’s wife, as with many of the other characters, wants to live out the American dream; “Coulda been in the movies”. It is this dream that drives and compels her to carry on with her otherwise miserable life on the ranch. However, her sudden death shatters her only hope of being able to get away from ranch life, where she is clearly not happy. We can see that the shattering of her dream is mirrored exactly by the death of Lennie, ending the dream for George and Candy. This shows that because she failed living the American dream, it is an ominous foreboding of the fate for George and Lennie.
Curley’s wife also plays an essential part in the novel, as she plays crucial parts in changing the mood of the scene. When she is first introduced, hope created by the arrival of Candy is wiped out and the reader gets an ominous warning, which is emphasised by George’s caution to Lennie; “you keep away from her…jail bait”. Furthermore, when Curley’s wife arrives in chapter four, the excited mood created by wanting to achieve the American dream, changes to a more melancholy mood. We can see that because Curley’s wife is lonely all the time, she has turned into a spiteful and vicious person; “a nigger and a dum dum an’ a lousy ol’ sheep”.