Curley's wife is utilized be Steinbeck to symbolize how women were perceived and treated during 1930’s America. Throughout the novella Curley’s wife is marginalized and is distinguished as an object, only being valued for her appearance, due to her gender.
At the start of the novel, our reaction towards her are essentially negative, seeing her as a ‘tramp’ and ‘jailbait’. However, our attitudes towards her start to change, and we begin to sympathy for her, along with understanding the attitudes for her actions and attention seeking.
Steinbeck describes Curley's wife through Candy. He describes the negative image of her to George and Lennie, which were associated as rumours, spread between ranch workers.
The fact that she is introduced by rumours, means that the reader will already have a biased opinion of her, before she even enters the scene.
Candy mentioned that Curley's wife ‘has the eye’. This could suggest that she is flirtatious with the ranch workers, and that they have a negative opinion of her. And could there for be a danger to George and Lennie’s dream, because of her being the wife of the boss’s son, who could theoretically remove them of ranch. Steinbeck situates this, despite knowing that she is married, implicating that Curley's wife is a ‘tramp’.
When Steinbeck first presents Curley's wife, her appearance in chapter 2 has persuaded us that Candy’s perspective of her was right. ‘Fingernails were red…cotton house dress and red mules…red ostrich feather.’ As she is wearing a lot of red, it could be telling us that Curley's wife is attempting to attract the attention of the other ranch workers, because of her being lonely. This is because he is the only female on the ranch. Curley's wife is also wearing red as a sign of love, which she may not be getting from Curley – this could be the reason why she is seeking attention of other men.
On the other hand, the colour red, could portray danger, again suggesting that the ranch workers should stay away from her. ‘full rouged lips and wide spaced eyes which were heavenly made up’ this quote implies that she takes pride in her appearance, also the work ‘heavenly made up’ which could suggest that she is wearing a lot of makeup, perhaps to gain attention of the other ranch workers.
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When Curley’s wife leaves the bunkhouse Georges remarks about her to Lennie, reinforcing the idea that she is a ‘tart’ and could cause ‘trouble’ for them. George’s impressions of her, are universally negative. He says to Lennie ‘Jesus, what a tramp’. This could suggest that George knows that Curley’s wife will be a bad influence on Lennie and could affect their dream.
George also says ‘so that’s what Curley picks for a wife’ this could propose that women in those times were seen as unimportant; only as object owned by men.
George also says, ‘so that’s what Curley picks for a wife’. This quote could propose that women in the 1930’s were see as unimportant; only as an object owned by men. Furthermore the work ‘that’s’ could imply that Curley's wife has no significance as she is being perceived as an object.
George tells Lennie to stay away from Curley's wife multiple times: ‘don’t you even take a look at that bitch…you leave her be’. This quote implies that Curley's wife is being objectified by George, who thinks nothing more of her than a body that is potentially dangerous to their dream, however understands Lennie’s unreasonable, childish desires in vulnerable situations.
This may be foreshadowing of events to come. And how Curley's wife will play a key role in George and Lennie’s downfall. First, George has to warn Lennie about Curley, who is also a potential threat. Then, George must caution Lennie to avoid Curley's wife, telling him to avoid "the rat-trap".
Steinbeck continues to show a negative attitude towards Curley's wife through a conversation between Whit and George, whilst playing cards. ‘Seen the new kid’ whit asked. In this quote Curley's wife is being referred to as a child. This characteristic is more evident when Whit describes as a person who ‘ain’t concealing nothing’ implying both, that she may not be physically hiding anything, and adding to her promiscuous personality and that she is an open woman towards other men. Through this Steinbeck could suggesting to the readers that Curley's wife has little to no care, for her marital status.
In addition to George and Candy, Whit also has a negative opinion of Curley's wife. He refers to Curley's wife as a ‘loo loo’ implying that she is someone on the ranch that does not have a good reputation. Whit also calls Curley's wife a ‘jailbait’. At this point in the novel there is a universal opinion of Curley's wife, that she is an object owned by men. This is point is heavily supported due to that fact that Curley's wife’s name has not actually been used in this novel, except she is being referred to as ‘Curley's wife’ and negative opinions. This could show the life that most women lived during the 1930’s.
As we keep on learning about Curley's wife, we start to discover that she may not really be a ‘tart’ yet just a lonely and abused woman, whose thoughts for men are probably not sexual in nature, but mainly to get some attention.
Throughout the start of the novel, we build a corrupt impression of Curley's wife, however in chapter four, Steinbeck starts to create sympathy towards her character. When Curley's wife converses with the ranch workers she says: ‘everybody out doin’ sompin, everybody! An what am I doing, talking to a bunch of bindle stiffs’. This quote could signify that Curley’s wife is being marginalised from the rest of the people on the ranch. This could most likely be because she is a women and at that time women were only seen as objects and had no importance. The use of the word ‘bindle stiffs’ show the anger of her being lonely. This links to the question because the attitudes of the ranch workers here, are again negative towards her – leaving her alone at the ranch while the others go out.
More sympathy is created for Curley’s wife when candy says angrily ‘you aint wanted here, we told you aint’ this quote directly insults Curley’s wife, building pity towards her, because all she wants to do have someone to spend time. Both the ranch workers and her husband neglect her, perhaps this is why she chooses to seek attention of everyone and promiscuous.
Candy also makes an indirect comment towards Curley’s wife; ‘we got fren’s that’s what we got’. He is in some sense ‘rubbing It’ in her face that she does not have any ‘friends.’ This could cause Curley’s wife to feel bad about herself and feel as if she is being marginalised from the ranch, due to Curley not wanting to talk to her because he is too busy trying to act big of himself, secondly the ranch workers don’t want to speak to her because they think that she is a jail bait, and now the three people who were similarly marginalised from ranch, don’t want to speak to her either. Causing the reader to feel sympathy for her.
However this sympathy is short-lived when Steinbeck presents a more racist and bigoted side of Curley’s wife. This is supported when Curley’s wife refers to crooks as a ‘busted back nigger’ this suggests that at that time many people were prejudice and discriminated against coloured people. This causes the readers feeling to start to change.
We also start to see the meanness which is filled inside Curley’s wife. When she causes crooks to ‘reduce himself to nothing.’ Curley’s wife alleged to crooks ‘keep you place then, Nigger. I could get you strung up on a tree.’ This quote again shows the racism towards black people in the 1930, people seeing it as a normal thing. Moreover this could show that even though Curley’s wife was a woman – who relatively had a low status, gave commands to crooks because he was black; who had little to no status. This would cause the reader to feel a sense of hate and negativity towards her - giving her a negative role, again.
In chapter 5 of the novella, Steinbeck presents sympathy towards Curley’s wife again. He has shown her as a kind hearted and caring person, in contrast to how flirty and egoistic she is. This may cause the readers attitudes towards her to change. ‘Don’t you worry none. He was jus a mutt, you can get another one easy’ Curley's wife shows empathy towards Lennie’s childlike behaviour, comforting him for his loss. This is where the audience builds a ‘soft spot’ for Curley's wife. However, it is ironic that Curley's wife says this because, she is treated like this by Curley, something that is easily replaceable. Through this Steinbeck emphasises how women were treated and how they had no status.
Curley’s wife dream was to go to Hollywood and be in the ‘pictures’. She explained she met a guy who made her believe he would do that for her, but he never did. Curley’s wife desperately wanted to feel like somebody special, she wanted to leave her ordinary life and in her small town, with visions of grandeur. This is a familiar theme of the American dream, so prevalent in this novella, except from a woman’s perspective.
After finding this out, our attitudes towards her may change, because we have finally found out her reasons for behaving in this manner. This could create a sense of innocence for her.
After Curley’s wife’s death, we see a distinct difference in how we as an audience see her and the attitudes of the ranch workers towards her. ‘The meanness and…the discontent and the ache for attention were all gone from her face.’ This quote shows that after all the stress and things life had placed on her, she has finally relaxed and is at ease from the suffering she received from the ranch workers and her unfulfilled dreams. ‘Now her rouged cheeks and her reddened lips made her seem alive.’ This shows and reminds you of the importance of makeup to her, as even at her death she looks the same. However in this scene the makeup applied to her face make her seem more innocent and humble than how she was presented dangerously in the beginning of the novel.
Throughout the novel Curley's wife is presented in three ways. She is an object of fear and apprehension. A powerless person, belonging with the others in this category. And a dreamer, incapable of grasping her dream. In these three ways, we come to see Curley's wife as a full-fledged member of the powerless class. She is more alike to Crooks, Candy and Lennie than she is different.