How Far Do You Agree That Curley’s Wife Is a Victim and Deserves Our Sympathy?

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The novel 'Of Mice and Men' was written by John Steinbeck in 1936. It is set in the society of the 1920's. The author sets up our perception of the character 'Curley's wife' in a way that allows us to develop our understanding of her, and enables us to later decide how far we agree that she is an innocent and vulnerable victim, or a manipulator who deserves her fate.

We are first introduced to the character 'Curley's wife' in chapter two by Candy. We immediately see her being blamed for causing her husband’s arrogance “Curley is cockier'n ever since he got married”. An image of her as someone who should be blamed is therefore set up this early in the novel. Soon after this we get an impression of her appearance. Candy describes her as “purty”. This shows she has a ‘pretty’ physical appearance. When we first look at this comment we see it as a positive one but when we explore this we see that this could be a bad position for women when being looked at by men, and that she could be called a 'sex object'. On the other hand we could say she deserves this impression because Candy warns George and Lenny about her: “She got the eye” and “I think Curley's married a tart”. This comment not only implies she is someone not to be trusted, but that she is sexually promiscuous and flirts with other men. They also imply that she is unfaithful as she has only been married to her husband for “a couple of weeks”.

Steinbeck then gives us a full description of her. The information contained backs up Candy's evidence for calling her a tart. She is described as “heavily made up”, with “fully rouged lips”, and “red fingernails”. All of this highlights her sexual promiscuity, but also, by using the colour red, we can associate it with things such as danger, passion, and sex. These also show how attractive and sexually available she is.

She can also be seen as inappropriate and provocative as she wears a 'cotton house dress' out of doors, which is too personal. Also she is wearing “red mules” and “red ostrich feathers”, hardly the usual attire for a ranch. She has her hair in “sausage curls”, which makes her seem slightly ridiculous to the reader. In all, Steinbeck presents a clear and thorough description of her. Much more can be said about her image as even though her question had been answered she “leaned against the door frame, body thrown forward”. This shows that even though she is being flirtatious, she is desperately seeking attention, and opens our minds to the possibility of sympathising with her for being so desperate and lonely.

George, who is a character we trust, speaks very negatively about Curley's wife. He is very sarcastic and after calling her “a tramp”, and laying emphasis on her promiscuous manner, he says “she's sure hiding it”. This sarcasm is powerful because we realise that George thinks the exact opposite – that she's showing her body too much. He insults her further by saying that she is a “bitch”. He also highlights the fact that she is manipulative and a trap for all men who dare to get involved with her “jail bait” and “rat trap”. By this point in the novel Steinbeck seems to be encouraging us to feel sympathy with and understand for George. Therefore we might not regard these comments as outrageous on first reading. However, when we learn later about the company she has lived among, we begin to sense she is merely craving attention, and her promiscuity is the only way she has found to gain it. George expands on this idea by saying “a ranch with a bunch of guys ain't no place for a girl”. These words make it clear that she is very alone in her situation - a rough masculine environment. George says “there’s gonna be a bad mess about her”.

This shows George is worried about getting involved with her. In response Wit says casually “if you got ideas, you ought to come into town”. Wit is suggesting visiting a brothel as a way of satisfying these urges. He goes on to describe the differences between the two...
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