Essay: Steinbeck’s novel ‘Of Mice and Men’ – Curley’s wife

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  • Steinbeck's novel 'Of Mice and Men' - Curley's wife
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Steinbeck’s novel ‘Of Mice and Men’ is set in 1930s America during the dust bowl and The Great Depression. In the novel Steinbeck introduces the reader to many different characters. One of the characters we are introduced to is Curley’s wife who is represented as a very lonely and selfish person. Steinbeck also portrays Curley’s wife as a dangerous and cautious person towards others working at the ranch, so a reader throughout the novel would have ideas about her. The novel is a microcosm, reflecting the preconceived society. Black people had no rights in America; they were seen as ‘nobody’s. Women too had very few rights and Curley’s wife represents this. All these people were forced into loneliness and isolation just like she was; they all had a dream, ‘The American Dream’. Curley’s wife is represented as a quite aggressive character in the novel especially towards Crooks. The author uses adjectives such as ‘seductive’, ‘red dress’, ‘red lips’ and also other phrases like ‘red ostrich feather’ or ‘red mules’ ,that tells us that she likes to dresses very attractively, this is unusual for a ranch owners wife. Most of the ranch workers call her a ‘tart’ or ‘jailbait’ due to the way she dresses. The adjectives used make us think of passion or love because of the colour red, which is also a colour that suggests danger and cautions. we understand this as she is a danger to the jobs of the ranch workers because if they talk or interact with her, then they may get sacked by Curley, in addition to this she is very lonely, Curley’s wife is very aggressive when it comes to achieving her needs and desires, because of this she does not belong at the ranch and stands out just like the colour red.The message Steinbeck is trying to get across with this is that life as workers like George and Lennie is very difficult, and maybe, in order to to fulfil your needs, danger and aggression may be an option. For example Curley’s wife, has become very bitter due to her loneliness and unfulfilled dreams. Curley’s Wife and her significance in the novel is how she revolves around the novels main themes and events. Curley’s Wife is left out for being a female, she often searches for companionship with the ranch worker. She is married but she in not happy, we know this as, she states to Lennie “I don’t like Curley he aint a nice fella.” This is why she tries to talk to other men on the ranch however she usually ignored because the workers think that a “ranch aint no place for a girl.” Or as Carlson states “women should be at home where she belongs.” The fact that she is deprived from a place of physical work is objective of how women were portrayed in the 1930’s. They suppose to be at home and raise a family. Curley’ wife feels insecure because of the loneliness she feel. Curley’s wife says “none of them care how I gotta live.” This shows her frustration and realisation of her issues of being a female during 1930s and Steinbeck draws a readers attention to this. Similar to Crooks, Curley’s Wife is not named. This carries on throughout the novel, highlighting her lack of identity on the ranch and how she is viewed as the belonging of her husband, the use of the possessive apostrophe reminds us of this. In addition to her self doubt, she tries to fight her loneliness and isolation by being violent. Her vicious attacks on Crooks to getting him “strung up on a tree” and the attacks on Lennie due to his mental disability, show how loneliness can not only change a person, but destroy them. Despite the representation of threat that she is appointed (an aspect in which we see in the scene that takes place in Crooks’ room), Curley’s wife belongs to the less powerful and deprived group that are in Crooks’ room, such as Candy, Crooks and Lennie, Curley’s wife has very little authority in her world. She is controlled by her more patriarchal husband, feared by the hands of the ranch and isolated as the only woman on the ranch. All of the emotions Curley’s Wife encounters come as a result of the loneliness she feels, and these clearly represent of what a terrifying character she is. Also, through out the novel she still remains ‘Curley’s wife’ This fact helps to provide her character to be seen as an object – George constantly warms Lennie to keep away, she is a person to be feared from a distance. The others, the men, also talk about her in ways that are compatible with the fact that the “tart” presents a danger to the men living on the ranch. Another way in which Steinbeck presents Curley’s Wife is through the use of irony. Curley’s Wife only gets negative attention, but it is the only attention she can get because she can’t get the attention which she desires to get from being in the limelight, this links to her American dream to be a film star. The ranch hands don’t give her this positive attention because they think a “ranch with a bunch of guys on it, ain’t no place for a girl specially like her.” Steinbeck uses this to hint and foreshadow at the unhappy ending of her life. She does not know that she is causing pain and casting shadows, so it is ironic that when she dies the light leaves her, “the sun streaks were high on the wall by now.” This ties in with the American Dream women had during Steinbecks harsh world; to be “in the movies”. Just like many others Curley’s wife wants to in the limelight and theatre even though it is not possible for someone like Curley’s wife who has very little authority. Overall, Steinbeck through out the novel uses Curley’s wife to foreshadow events later in the novel and hint at the key events and themes of the novel. It is made clear she is threat to George and Lennie’s dream, however also a victim of sexism and loneliness. Steinbeck makes it clear that companionship is a vital part of human happiness.

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