How does Steinbeck explore different attitudes to women in Of Mice and Men?

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How does Steinbeck explore different attitudes to women in “Of Mice and Men”

In this essay I will analyse how Steinbeck explores different attitudes to women in the novel “Of Mice and Men”. I will start by looking at the historical and social context, then I will show how the writer presents women in his work, and finally, I will present and analyse the male characters who have a defined opinion about women and explore their attitude.

“Of Mice and Men” is set in the 1930s during the Great Depression, a period of economic recession that resulted in a huge separation between social classes. Because of mass unemployment, many workers had to become ranch hands moving from place to place in search for work. Steinbeck sets his novel on a ranch near Salinas, California. He was personally familiar with ranch life as he was born in the Salinas Valley and worked on a farm himself. It is possible that some characters within the novel to be inspired from his experience.

Steinbeck has made the ranch a micro representation of the society of that time. This contains all the elements of the 1930s society: a male environment with a well established hierarchy on the farm, a single female character and a few other women about who we learned through the men.

There were three stereotypes of women in the 1930s: the obedient wife and mother, the actress and the prostitute. The writer reveals all these stereotypes of women through his female characters in his novel.

The 1930s’ wife and mother stereotype is personified through four different characters: Curley’s wife - the promiscuous wife, George’s girl - the perfect wife, Aunt Clara - the good mother and Curley’s wife’s mother - the controlling mother.

Curley’s wife, the only female character that plays a real role in the novel, is the perfect example of the early 20th century wife. Steinbeck shows her as having limited roles on the ranch and being Curley’s possession. She has not given a name. She is known as “Curley’s wife” being presented as belonging to her husband without having an identity on her own.

During the Great Depression, husbands treated their wives with little respect and women’s main role was to cook, clean the house and raise the children. Curley’s wife wears a “cotton house dress” and her hair is lung in “little rolled clusters, like sausages” (page 34). This suggests that her place is in the kitchen, not in the bunkhouse where she bursts frequently. Anyway, she is never seen outdoor only in the bunkhouse and in the barn.

On the other hand, Steinbeck presents Curley’s wife as sexual temptation and trouble-maker. She is a beautiful woman who constantly shows off her beauty to the men on the ranch. She dresses inappropriately/inadequately for a woman living on the farm and being married the boss’ son. When she is seen for the first time in the bunk house, she has “full, rouged lips …. heavily made up. Her finger nails are red” and she wears “red … feathers” on her “red mules”. (page 34)  By presenting her wearing a lot of red, the writer suggests that she symbolizes danger and love. Being the boss’ son’s wife, men on the ranch see her rather as a dangerous temptation that as a beautiful woman. She cannot provide any sex because she is Curley’s wife and the only thing she can cause is trouble.

Curley’s wife begins to be presented in a sympathetic way as the story progresses. Finally, Steinbeck offers a sympathetic view of Curley’s wife in chapter 5 by allowing her to voice her unhappiness and her own dream for a better life. She dies shortly after her confession in the barn reinforcing the men’s vision that there is no place for a woman on the farm. “Ranch with a bunch of guys on it ain’t no place for a girl, especially like her!” (page 58) Men’s lifestyle at the time meant they were always travelling and never settle down and get married. In the men’s vision this is a world structured around them and brothels.

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Opposite to Curley’s wife, George’s girl represents the devoted and loving wife or girlfiend, the woman who every man dreams to have as a wife. It seems like the writer wants to suggest that there were also good women in the 1930s society even if they were a minority. George talks with tenderness (gentelness) and regret about having a “girl” when he talks about letting Lennie away, settle down and have a stable life.

Aunt Clara is introduced by George as a caretaker character. She is not Lennie’s mother, but she is blood relative and has taken Lennie to look ...

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