My initial response to the character of Curley's wife was that of intense dislike- I found Steinbeck to subtly prejudice us, as readers, against her, before she even made a physical appearance in the text. Upon reflection, I perceive Curley's wife in some ways to be the most important figure in the novel- she is a key symbol of temptation, and most of the story's main underlying themes: dreams, isolation and loneliness, for example, can be related to her in some way. To an extent, she can be blamed for the terrible outcome of events, although technically, she is no more culpible than any of the other characters for what happens.
The first thing that struck me about Curley's wife was that we never find out her real name. Without exception, she is always referred to in direct relation to Curley. I find this to be very important for a number of reasons. Firstly, it suggests Curley's possessive nature, and portrays his wife as a mere 'belonging' of his, rather than a partner or an equal. Secondly, and particularly more prominently, is the way in which her being nameless immediately establishes Curley's wife as a symbol rather than a character. The other men markedly view her as a symbol of temptation- 'Wait'll you see Curley's wife.' She is very obviously different to all the other people in the story; Curley's wife is the only female character in the novel, and is additionally a stereotype of women: a distraction and a provocation, described very early on as 'having the eye' for other men despite being married, and looked at as a 'tart' and a 'looloo,' in the crude words of the ranch workers.
I feel, after reading the novel, that Steinbeck presents Curley's wife in a mainly negative light, at least initially. Before she even appears in person, the men discuss her, and our opinion of her is already firmly influenced by what they say. She is referred to as 'jail bait,' and physically described as moving and behaving in a provocative, even promiscuous manner-...
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