Curley's Wife of Mice and Men

Topics: Woman, Gender, Gender role Pages: 5 (1816 words) Published: November 11, 2012
English Homework – Section B Exam Questions Zeinab Dafalla


Part A) What methods does Steinbeck use to present Curley’s wife?

In the passage the first words that Steinbeck uses are that “Both men glanced up,” and through this we are introduced to Curley’s wife through her effect on men and not through any notion of herself, which Steinbeck does to show us she is only worthy for the use of men. Not so long after in the sentence we are told “the rectangle of sunshine in the doorway way cut off.” Here, Steinbeck uses the light symbolically to highlight how imposing she is and present the idea that she is the obstacle to a better life. It soon becomes apparent that Curley’s wife is an outsider of the group when it states, “A girl was standing there looking in.” which is a metaphor for the isolation she feels. It could be reflective of the gender roles at the time; women were only wanted for men’s sexual desires rather than their company. One could also interpret it as how similarly to a ‘girl’, (which she ironically is no longer), she is seeking attention and wishes all eyes to be on her by standing in the view of everyone and could be seen as trying to listen in on their conversation – both very childish manoeuvres.

Next, Steinbeck presents her as having “full, rouged lips and wide spaced eyes, heavily made up.” As well as wearing “…a cotton house dress and red mules” and both the heavy make up and flattering outfit make her incongruous to the nature of a manual labour working ranch and her well-cared for appearance also suggests that she doesn’t want to be there and longs for a more luxurious lifestyle – where it would be more appropriate. On the other hand, one could feel sympathy toward her for having to go to all this effort to gain attention from other males seen as her own husband isn’t interested and as the make-up is used to cover up, it is clear that she isn’t confident enough to be herself and so is wearing her beauty as some sort of mask. There is frequent mention of the colour red by Steinbeck in her description as she wore “red mules”, with “red ostrich feathers” and “Her fingernails were red.” Steinbeck could be using this to serve as a forewarning for the reader as popular connotations of red are danger and flirtation– so he could be alerting us for the trouble that it to come from her. Furthermore about her outfit, the red mules are juxtaposition to the innocent cotton housedress; the complexity of her outfit could have been used by Steinbeck to imply that there is another side to her – other than the hard-faced and confident persona she uses. Conversely, when Steinbeck states, “Her voice had a nasal, brittle quality.” The reader’s perception of her as perfection instantly shatters and this brings us all back ‘down to earth’, which Steinbeck which could be using to remind us that no-one is matches our images of perfection and could be used to show the harsh mistreatment throughout her life and the effects of ranch life for a woman.

As previously mentioned, gender roles at the time were very much in place and women were often degraded and thought of only as objects and even animals – and Steinbeck reinforces this idea by never mentioning her name and referring to her only as “Curley’s wife” throughout the narration, highlighting that at the time some women were named and spoken about only as ‘X’s wife’ rather than themselves and leaving them nameless and unworthy of their own identities but it also makes her look more remote and friendless. It would also leave the reader wondering and searching for any clue about what her name is – leaving her as a reminder of one of the mysteries of the book to its readers. Additionally, when Steinbeck writes “Her hair hung in little rolled clusters, like sausages” which further enhances the idea of degradation as this food simile implies that she is only there to be consumed....
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