How Does Steinbeck present Curley’s wife in the novel ‘Of mice and Men’?
The novel ‘Of Mice and Men’ is set in the 1930’s, slap bang in the middle of the Great Depression. This allowed Steinbeck to explore the new characteristics of the citizens of California as they altered along with their ever changing country, and these citizens, must therefore include the women, in this story’s case, Curley’s wife. For Steinbeck the woman was somewhat of an obstacle to incorporate, as the bulk of the narrative is set in a ranch. However he overcomes this by introducing her as an ‘attachment’ or a ‘belonging’ to one of the workers, using the apostrophe to create the effect of Curley’s wife belonging to Curley. This is a very effective way of including every aspect of the 1930’s without bending the truth to make the story work. At the time of the book’s setting, women were treated very differently in America to the way they are today. They were treated more as objects than beings, and acted only as possessions to their husbands. This is reflected perfectly in Steinbeck’s only female character, and her personality sums up everything an average woman stood for in the early 20th century. To help us understand Curley’s wife’s position, Steinbeck uses Thematic Function. This is when specific themes are suggested through certain adjectives or phrases. In this character’s case, these themes include flirtatious, ridiculous and humble.
Curley’s wife is introduced a short while after Curley, which makes sense seeing as her so called name would suggest she is an accessory of sorts belonging to him. Her tragic death is in fact foreshadowed on two occasions, and so the more observant reader would be wary that something similar to what had happened in the past was likely to be repeated. The first example of this forewarning is presented to the reader in the form of conversation, between George and Slim. They are discussing the oddity that George and Lennie travel together, when George divulges on the path that has led them to the ranch. He tells Slim of Curley’s obsession with all nice things, ‘”He wants to touch everything he likes…”’, and of how this strange habit had led him to a young girl’s dress. When he reaches out and touches it, the girl ‘”squawks”’ and in the confusion Lennie just tightens his grip, ‘”that gets Lennie all mixed up, and he holds on”’. This foreshadows Curley’s Wife’s manslaughter because the details are very similar. He touches the girl’s dress (hair), but when she gets agitated and upset, he just carries on holding on to her. The difference between the two occasions is that in the case of the girl in Weed George was around to save her, whereas at the ranch, George wasn’t there to ‘”sock him over the head with a fence picket”’. The second incident was very soon before the girl’s own death. This was related to the puppy that Lennie had been given, as he had petted it too hard and it had been crushed in his mammoth hands. Just as he had settled it in the hay, Curley’s wife entered the barn, and from that moment her doom was sealed. They were alone, and there were no distractions. The final trigger was Curley’s wife’s comment of ‘”My hair is soft and fine. Here – feel right here.”’ From there Lennie became hypnotised by her luscious locks, and forgot himself, as he had in Weed. And with no George to save the day, the girl’s days were numbered.
The effect that this variety of themes has on the reader is that they feel sorry for her as she seems to be misunderstood by everyone. This includes Candy, ‘”Curley’s married a tart”’, George, ‘”She’s a rattrap if ever I saw one”’, and Whit, ‘”I bet she even gives the stable buck the eye”’. Steinbeck also suggests she was misunderstood in childhood, when she tells Lenny, ‘”…my ol’ lady wouldn’t let me…my ol’ lady stole it…”’. This suggests her relationship with her mother wasn’t that strong. Curley doesn’t really seem to have an opinion on the subject of his wife. He...
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