I will be exploring the ways in which Slim and Curley are presented in Of Mice and Men. These two might be considered minor characters in John Steinbeck’s novella; but no character is irrelevant.
This story is set during the Great Depression of the Thirties in America, and it tells how the ideal American Dream has collapsed in a time of poverty and hunger. Each character plays their part in illustrating themes of the book. These include showing how the aims and plans of men and women are broken by the harsh realities of life, and by fate itself. The title comes from a poem by Robert Burns, where the line says: The best laid schemes of Mice and Men, gang aft agley (often go askew).
Slim and Curley are presented as different symbols of manhood. One of the two men is a natural leader, a skilled craftsmen full of masculinity and respected by his peers; Slim is a Man, not a mouse. He cares about others and his character is used to help draw out information for the reader. On the other hand, Curley is a light weight both as a boxer and as a man. He is shown to be a coward and his authority comes only from his position as the son of the boss. He is a mouse, and his weak, cowardly meddling helps ensure that people’s plans do go askew.
Steinbeck presents Curley in the first instance as; ‘… a thin young man with a brown face, with brown eyes and a head of tightly curled hair.’ Looks can be deceiving. John Steinbeck presents Curley in this way so when you find out what he is really like, you start to question your own thoughts about every character; even Lennie or George. You soon find out that Curley is a ‘mean little guy’ who hides behind an artificial status of his fathers, ‘like the boss, he wore high-heeled boots.’
In comparison to Curley there is Slim. Slim is a jerkline skinner, the prince of the ranch. Slim is described by John Steinbeck as royalty. ‘When he had finished combing his hair he moved into the room, and he moved with a majesty only achieved by royalty and master craftsmen.’ Steinbeck presents Slim as the prince of the ranch, the top of the pile in the men’s eyes. It is apparent that Slim is the prince on page 55 when, ‘… all talk stopped when he spoke.’ John Steinbeck chooses to present Slim in this way to show that Slim has natural power and Curley has power in theory but no natural power in practice. These ways of presenting Slim and Curley have been chosen by Steinbeck to create tension between these two characters. This tension is released on page … when Curley attacks Lennie.
On page … Slim and Curley are presented in different ways compared to how they were before. Slim is presented in this scene still as prince but Steinbeck uses him being first into the room before Curley as a way to show his rank. This is illustrated by ‘Slim came in, followed by Curley and Carlson and Whit.’ The evidence suggests that Steinbeck chooses to present Slim as the head of the pack and as the leader, unlike Curley who is just trying to cause problems. Slim has morals; he is a realist and knows what is right and wrong. Curley is a lightweight; he is a coward and knows only what boxing in about. With this Curley is also presented with his posture and movement. This choice of presenting Curley by Steinbeck invites the readers’ imagination to work, getting the reader involved. John Steinbeck does this with many lines in this scene; ‘Curley was balanced and poised.’ This is chosen by Steinbeck as a way of presenting Curley as it shows his way of movement as a boxer. This also shows that he is always on edge and has a personality which is shown through his hair.
In contrast, Curley is presented by Steinbeck as a coward throughout this scene. He is depicted as hiding behind his father by threatening to fight people who know they would lose their job if they hit him. This cowardliness is fully exposed when there is a confrontation with Slim, and Curley; But this time Curley is the one to back down. Curley accuses Slim of sleeping with his wife, who has been openly flirting with the other men despite being only married 3 weeks ago at the beginning of the book. Curley’s wife confesses her loneliness to Lennie near the end of the book but all is too late as she is soon lying dead, with a crowd of people around her – not so lonely anymore. Curley is shown as genuinely suspecting a relationship between ‘Curley’s wife’ and Slim, but instead of fighting the master crafts man, he retreats and apologises for the accusation, saying: ‘well, I didn’t mean nothing, Slim. I just ast you.’ Steinbeck presents this apologise of Curley as being pathetic. Slim is offended because he is getting annoyed at Curley for asking him all the time because unlike Curley, Slim has morals. Slim is the antithesis of Curley as Slim is doing a man’s job in the barn and Curley is just going around accusing Slim of sleeping with his wife because he can’t please her.
At the end of the fight scene Curley has “flopped like a fish” on to the floor and Lennie has retreated to the corner. Who will solve this in the right manner? Slim as he sees inner truth in George and Lennie. Slim knows that what Lennie had done was wrong but knows that Curley deserved it and that Lennie didn’t mean to hurt him. Slim thinks about this. He is shown to be thinking by Steinbeck with his facial expression, “Slim smiled wryly.” This presentation of slim shows how he wants to help but doesn’t know how to. But as he is the prince of the ranch, he soon figures out what to do.
Throughout the novella people share their views on Curley. Steinbeck uses this to present Curley to the reader in the eyes of the characters around him; even his wife. But first we need to see how Steinbeck presents Curley in a way which affects even the coolest of guys, George; ‘George said coldly, …’ Steinbeck writes this on page 59-60 in response to Curley’s aggressive behaviour towards George. Presenting George in this way towards Curley shares the theme of plans of men going askew. With this feeling towards Curley, you get the sense as the reader that George knows Curley is a problem from the very start. Shortly after this George says, ‘I hate his guts.’ Even though he has only met him for ten minutes at best. This way of showing Curley to the reader helps to show how aggressive he is.
This theme of no respect for Curley is carried out through this scene when not even the dog respects him. ‘The dog raised his head, but when Curley jerked out, the grizzled head sank to the floor again.’ Curley is present as having no respect by Steinbeck to show the real extent to which his power dominates. If not even the future dead-dog respects him; how will he get the respect of his fellow man? Ironically, it is through the murder of his wife, a killing that is brought about, at least in part, by his own inadequacy.
Curley is presented by Steinbeck as the crusher of dreams. He is not only the crusher of the men’s dreams but his wife’s dreams of being a film star. “…” This shows that he was second to his wife compared to the Hollywood producer. In today’s world you would consider this as the basis for a bad marriage which is doomed from the very start. Ironically the only time we hear of them being together in the same room is when she is killed.
Steinbeck presents Curley in this scene as last and the person with least amount of power apart from crooks, the stable buck. “…Whit and Curley and Crooks.” Steinbeck presents Curley like this to show the shift in power throughout this scene from Slim to Curley, “…Until Curley called.”
In the death scene of Curley’s wife, Slim acts as he always does by taking control but unusually he soon losses control compared with Curley who starts the scene with no power and at the end gains overwhelming power over everyone even Slim.
Steinbeck uses the death of Curley’s wife to transfer power from Slim to Curley. The death of his wife might be considered Lennie’s fault by many, but I would blame Curley for what happen to his wife. All of this could have been avoided if Curley had been a good husband and had given his wife full satisfaction as she wouldn’t have been flirting with Lennie in the first place to which in turn triggers Lennie’s lethal strength.
Steinbeck also uses the death of Curley’s wife to allow Curley to take control for the first time as Curley has the right and duty to catch the killer. This duty of power is even too great for the great prince, Slim. With Curley presented as leader now, the others have no choice but to follow him as disobeying could lead to them losing their jobs. “…” This death serves as a device to show how evil allows evil to grow even stronger and is allowed to outmanoeuvre even the most skilful and the best of men, Slim.
Lastly, Steinbeck Presents Slim as the leader again. He final takes control of the situation. When I read the book I got the sense that Slim becomes George and George becomes Lennie, partners. “He lead George into the entrance of the trail and up toward the highway.” This shows that Slim in a caring person and who understands that George had to kill Lennie, “You hadda, George. I swear you hadda.”
The last time you see Curley is in the showdown. Steinbeck presents Curley’s real evil in the showdown with his admiring speak. “‘Right in the back of the head.’ He said softly.” Steinbeck presents Curley in his real evil. When you first look over this line you might think he is being sympathetic but all he is doing is admiring Georges shot.
In conclusion to John Steinbeck novella