Of Mice And Men: A Critical Look At Curley?s Wife

Of Mice And Men: A Critical Look At Curley?s Wife

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‘Of Mice and Men’, a novel by John Steinbeck, tells a story of friendship, loneliness and aspirations. Two itinerants named George and Lennie go to work on a farm as labourers in a place named Soledad. The story then ends when George takes Lennie’s life. Almost everyone on the farm is lonely and the person that represents this the most is Curley’s (the boss’s son) wife, one of the most pivotal characters in the book. When Lennie and George arrive on the farm and are shown their quarters Curley’s wife, on one of her ‘looking for Curley’ routines, sees them both and immediately starts flirting with them. George gets angry when Lennie takes a shine to her and tell him to stay away and calls her a ‘bitch’ and a ‘rat-trap’ This view is also held by many of the workers on the farm. Curley instantly takes a dislike to Lennie when he firsts meets him just because he his much considerably larger that himself. This attitude towards Lennie results in him getting into a fight with him but he loses when Lennie crushes his hand with his own fist. Curley’s wife knows Lennie did this even though Curly was told to say he had caught his hand in a machine. Curley’s wife pursuit of company leads her to seek solace with Lennie. She pours out her pent up frustration of her unrealised dreams and ambitions. When she realises Lennie isn’t taking much interest she lets him feel her hair. Lennie being Lennie strokes harder and harder even though Curley’s wife begs him to stop. As she struggled to get out of his grasp he accidentally broke her neck. Lennie then ran off to his hiding place where he was told to go if he ever did a ‘bad thing.’ When Curley discovers his wife’s body he runs after Lennie with a mob including George. This leads to George pulling a trigger on Lennie.

I feel Curley’s wife is the most despairing and lonely character in the book. She has no friends, no future, no respect; she doesn’t even deserve a name. I really feel sorry for her, all she wants is someone to talk to, to converse with but in her mind the only way she can do this is by flaunting herself to the men just to get noticed. This leads her to be perceived as a ‘floosy’ by the men.

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I think she represents absolute loneliness and desperation to achieve something better in life. She also provides an interesting facet on how women were viewed in the early 20th century.

One aspect that relates to all others is her loneliness that engulfs her life and her absolute inhibition to find companionship. Curley’s wife has no friends on the ranch and her ‘passion’ to communicate with anyone makes her attempt to find some kind of sympathy with lowly regarded people such as Crooks or Lennie. Men on the farm perceive Curley’s wife as a ‘floosy’ and a ‘tart.’ This sexual image the workers have of her, partly brought on by herself, stops them from approaching her or conversing with her. The only reason she parades herself is to get attention because the only thing she wants is life is attention. She believes that ‘ain’t none of them cares how I gotta live.’ This is in fact true, no one in the book cares about her or how she feels which must be very depressing and demoralising. This situation leads her to become frustrated and she lets it all out during a conversation with Crooks, Lennie and Candy. She ‘flared up’ and started to pour out her feelings about how she doesn’t like her husband and begins to pick on and threaten all three of the men. This incident really gives an insight on how unhappy and bitter she is with her life. Her marriage to Curley was only a dismal attempt to escape her solitary life. In fact it has only made it worse. Curley holds no respect for his wife and regards her as a trophy. His insecure feelings towards his wife, forces her into flirting with the other ranchers. Her little visits to find Curley are only there so that she can speak to somebody but none of them seem to realise this and instead fob her off as a hussie.

One thing in Curley’s wife’s life is the desire to become famous and be a star, to be noticed by everybody. When she was fifteen she wanted to become an actress but ultimately she couldn’t. ‘I tell ya I could have went with shows. Not jus’ one, neither. An’ a guy tol’ me he could of put me in pitchers…’ This feeling of ‘I could’ appears to be one of the major factors of why she’s unhappy. Her unrealised dream of being in the limelight leads her to marry Curley to act as a sort of compromise since being the wife of the bosses son may have given her some respect and some luxuries in life. In Lennie she saw someone she could explain her problems to and in her final conversation with him she explains about her unrealised dream but it falls on deaf ears as Lennie takes no interest whatsoever. Her spiral of loneliness happens quite quickly. First of all her dream of becoming an actress was shattered when the man who was ‘gonna put me in the movies’ never wrote back to her. She then married Curley since it was the only thing she felt she could do as during the depression work was hard to come by. The marriage was a disaster, she herself said ‘I don’ like Curley. He ain’t a nice fella.’ And she was even glad Lennie ‘bust up Curley a bit,’ which tells you something about her. She then proceeded to display herself quite bluntly and so her life became one big disaster.

Curley’s wife is a stunningly beautiful woman and flaunts herself to the men on the ranch. She dresses and acts sort of like a ‘whore’. She makes use of her stunning body to gain the attention of the ranchers to soothe her loneliness. But because of her reputation for being a flirt, none of the farmhands wants to talk to her, but no matter how hard she tries, she can never fit in. She is often ‘heavily made up,’ again to attract attention from the workers which does work, as Candy put it, ‘a rat-trap.’ The men then distance themselves from her so they can never tempted by her and therefore causes her even more loneliness. This is of course is to her disadvantage but even she can’t realise it and thinks ‘What's the matter with me?' 'Ain't I got right to talk to nobody?’

Curley’s wife is a very flirtatious character, but only to get noticed by the other men. When she first encounters George and Lennie she instantly starts to flirt with them, she ‘leaned against the door-frame so that her body was thrown forward.’ This gives impression that she was a ‘tart’ which Candy had warned them about before she entered. She wanted to be respected by the men on the farm or at least been held in some regard but the way in which she presented herself made this impossible. The fact that she was a woman also added to the disrespect she got from the men, particularly from her husband. She was the only woman character in the ranch, which would also made her feel quite isolated. The only person to take some interest in Curley’s wife was Lennie but his was limited to watching her with ‘his mouth half open.’ Lennie is the only person Curley’s wife feels she can talk to, explain her problems and not just flirt outrageously with. With Lennie we see her other side, she opens up to him and treats him kindly unlike her husband. Lennie on the other hand is not a good listener and is more interested in ‘tending the rabbits.’ She wants company but doesn’t know how to get people to talk to her and treat her with some dignity; instead she portrays herself as a ‘floosy’ which in fact has the opposite effect.

Curley’s wife can be seen in many different lights. You tend to feel sorry for her but at the same time thinking she let herself into her situation. You have sympathy for her because she is desperately lonely and detest her because of her provocative a selfish nature. I think her life was so lonesome and depressing that maybe could be seen as a positive event since it ended her suffering. Her dream of becoming a star was ultimately impossible and I think she knew that but her loneliness was so engulfing that it was her only comfort in life. I think Steinbeck used Curley’s wife in the book to best represent what the overruling theme in the book, loneliness.
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