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How Does John Steinbeck Present the Character of Curlys Wife

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How does John Steinbeck present Curley’s wife in “Of mice and men”? John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” is set in 1930’s America during the Great Depression and gives the reader a glimpse of the hardships of life back then and the social oppression. The theme running throughout the book is of a friendship between two men amidst dreams that they have, and of dreams being crushed. Curley’s wife is an important character in the book. John Steinbeck presents her in different ways throughout the novel and uses different techniques to manipulate the reader’s opinion, for example through her appearance. For the large part she is described in a negative way as a dangerous, flirtatious character which could be construed as a reflection of the way society viewed the role of women in the novel. However later in the book Steinbeck manipulates the reader into seeing her as complex, and feeling sympathy for Curley’s wife portraying her as a victim, desperate and isolated in a man’s world. This essay will illustrate how Steinbeck cleverly attempts to alter our opinion of Curley’s wife during the book.
John Steinbeck first presents the character of Curley’s wife when she is introduced to the reader through gossip on the ranch. Curley is said to have his “glove fulla Vaseline” to keep soft for his wife. This portrays how Curley’s wife is merely on the ranch for Curley to show the workers that he’s is married and how Curley’s wife is shown as his trophy. In addition to this, the workers refer to her using offensive names such as “tart,” which is a derogatory term and has obvious negative connotations. As she is only referred to by names like that it shows how she is not well thought of on the ranch. However, this also disgusts the reader and suggests how Curley’s wife is a floozy and is used as a sexual object.
Curley’s wife is first presented to us on page 49 of the book. “Both men glanced up, for the rectangle of sunshine in the doorway was cut off. A girl was standing there looking in. “Straight away the imagery suggests that Curley’s wife has brought darkness upon the room, symbolising the danger of her character. She is described as being “heavily made up” implying how she is trying to seek attention from the workers. Curley’s wife uses excessive use of the colour red “Her finger nails were red.” This suggests to the reader that she is wearing it because red is a bright colour and grabs attention or that red is the colour that is likely to be associated with danger and passion. Passion shows how she has a very fiery nature. Many times throughout the novel, John Steinbeck presents Curley’s wife using body language that is inviting and provocative “…her body was thrown forward.” Again, this manner shows the reader how Curley’s wife desires the attention. This portrays to the reader that she if a floozy and flirts with other men on the ranch, despite the fact that she has a husband. Sexuality is her only weapon and is the only thing that gets noticed. Our views of her are corrupted by the ranch workers who also refer to her as “tart”.
The fact that Curley’s wife is the only character in the book not to be referred to by her Christian name; just as “Curley’s wife” reflects perhaps how often women were perceived in the novel and how some women had very little respect. This could also elaborate how the apostrophe shows that she has no individualism-being Curley’s wife is what forms her identity. John Steinbeck gives us the impression that Curley’s wife belongs to Curley and has no identity of her own. Without the identity of a name, Curley’s wife is only known for her association with men she does not like including her husband Curley. She is a very flirtacious character and is said a few times of having “got the eye,” suggests that she is flirting with the other workers. Despite her marriage to Curley she is portrayed as flirting with other men, flaunting herself in inappropriate clothing “she had full rouged lips…She wore a cotton housedress and red mules” These clothes and her behaviour are attention-seeking rather than to invite sexual interest. She is also overdressed for life on the ranch. As the only woman on the ranch, Steinbeck immediately presents Curley’s wife as being lonely on a ranch full of men and lends us to believe that any attention is better than no attention at all. She is constantly searching for her husband “I’m lookin’ for Curley” suggesting to the reader that she is desperate for company; this also is an excuse for her to mingle with the workers so she has the chance to socialise.
Throughout the novel, Curley’s wife often shows an aggressive side to herself and frequently calls the workers personally offensive names in random outbursts of emotion. When most of the men are out at the Brothel she calls Lennie, Crooks and Candy “the weak ones” which discriminates them from the group. This portrays how Curley’s wife uses her undeserved power to intimidate the workers. Her power on the ranch restricts the workers from retaliating or they will “get the can.” We can also see this when she says “you know what I can do to you if you open your trap?” This implies how she can bee very vindictive and how she will then use the power her status gives her, even if it is totally unfair. Although Curley’s wife is presented as a villain by John Steinbeck by name calling, she is also very much a victim in this. She is called an uncountable amount of names like “rattrap” and “jailbait.” These names show the reader how dangerous she is. The terms “bait” and “trap” shows how she draws people into trouble. She may be taken advantage of sometimes because she is young.
Like many of the characters in the novel, Curley’s wife is one that has a dream. She met a man in a dance palace who was said he was going to “put her in the movies,” showing how she’s had her dream destroyed. She says this to Lennie when “her words tumble out in a passion of communication.” The word “tumble” suggests she is brimming with things she has to say, and “passion” further emphasises her fiery and impulsive nature. She claims to have received a letter, but her “ol’ lady stole it.” This portrays to the reader how gullable she is in believing that a complete stranger, who she has only briefly met, could “put her in the movies.” Furthermore Curley’s wife is also presented as a victim when she says “I don’t like Curley. He ain’t a nice fella.” Both of these sentences are short for dramatic effect emphasising her short words. It shows how she would prefer a different lifestyle and would rather be “in thee movies.” She uses the word “like” which connotes feeling between two friends rather than a happily married couple. This also shows that she was isolated and married a man she never loved. She may despise him because he left her alone all day and attends the brothel unthinkingly, even though he is married.
After Curley’s wife has her neck broken by Lennie, another side is shown to her character. Her death creates pathos for her and shows us that “she was very pretty and simple, and her face was sweet and young.” She is described positively throughout death. This portrays how Curley’s wife was never evil, she just had certain desires and how her punishment outweighs and crimes she may have committed. After Candy tells of her death, “the men burst into the barn.” All the workers crowd around her and show much more attention towards her in death than the do towards her when she’s alive.

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