Curley's wife is a complex, main character in John Steinbeck's novella, "Of Mice and Men" She is introduced at the beginning and ultimately causes the end of the novella, her naivity and flirtatiousness leading to her inevitable death at the hand of Lennie, confused and scared by her forwardness and eventual unrest.
She is first introduced by Candy, the swamper, who describes her from his perpsective to George and Lennie. The fact that Curley's wife is introduced through rumours means that the reader already has a biased opinion of Curley's wife before she even enters the section. Candy mentions that she, "got the eye" explaining that she is flirtatious and immoral in that wea re hit with the fact that she flirts with other men immediately after it is stated thatshe is married to Curley. Already, the reader is introduced to the idea that Curley's wife is an immoral "tart" which is strengthened upon her first appearance, which follows shortly after.
She is first seen in the doorway of the bunkhouse , asking about the location of her husband, which is soon revealed as being a weak excuse to interact with the ranchers. She is wearing a "red cotton house dress" and a pair of mules decorated with "bouquets of red ostrich feathers." emphasisinig her sexual presence as the colour red, which is expressed repeatedly when Curley's wife's clothes are described, is often reffered to as the colour of love and passion. Additionally, the bouquets of ostrich feathers, also described as red, on the insteps of her shoes would have been extremely expensive in the times Of Mice and Men was set; and that Curley's wife not only wears them on her feet but in the middle of the 'Dust Bowl' expresses her desperate need for attention as she is willing to possibly ruin her best shoes in order to entice the ranchers, despite the fact that she has a husband.
Not only is Curley's wife described as being a floozy but she is also described as being threatening. Upon entering Crooks's room, it is apparent that Crooks and Candy are afraid of her when they both, "scowled down away from her eyes." this deliberate prevention of eye contact could suggest that the men have a fear of Curley's wife or that they do not feel the need to dignify her with eye contact. The use of the word " scowling" means that either way, the presence of Curley's wife displeases Candy and Crooks. Eventually Curley's wife explodes at Crooks in a series of threatening comments after he sticks up for himself, "I could get you strung up so easy." Crooks then retracts all emotion and becomes very weak and submissive because of Curley's wife's threats. On the other hand, in this encounter you begin to realise the cause of her hostility, as it mentions that Curley's wife would like to "bust him." referring to Curley. The fact that Curley's wife has admitted that sometimes she would like to hurt Curley hints at domestic abuse as throughout the novel, Curley is described as violent and now that Curley's wife has admitted that despite being his wife, she would like to hurt him, creates the idea that Curley gives her a reason. If Curley's wife does infact suffer domestic abuse then this may partially excuse her hostility as she is mirroring the only atmosphere she is around whilst in the presence of her husband.
Curley's wife's last appearance has a drastic effect on how she is presented in the novella. Whilst all the other ranchers are playing horseshoe, Lennie is sat in the barn and is soon approached by Curley's wife. An interesting part about her character is explained by Irony used cleverly by Steinbeck. Her dream of being in the limelight is unrealistic as all she ever does is cast shadows and attract negative attention. When she entered the barn the, "sunshine in the doorway was cut off." not only portraying her as a negative influence but also foreshadowing her dismal end in the barn. Although,as she slowly opens up to Lennie, despite his lack of interest, the reader gains more and more knowledge about the truth of Curley's wife's personality, her innocence and dire need for escape and the drive to fulfill her dream that still remains, despite the circumstances.The true pureness of her character is expressed only upon her death, where her face is described as being, "sweet and young" and the "ache for attention was all gone for her face." The use of the word ache implies that Curley's wife's need for attention was so strong that it hurt her, true in the fact that it did indeed hurt her personality. In accordance with the new atmosphere caused by Curley's wife's death, and the realisation that she was never a floozy, the "sun streaks where high on the walls" and the barn was light again. This may be evidence of pathetic fallacy in that the levels of light and atmosphere reflect Curley's wife's changing mood and appearance.
Ultimately, despite all of the revelations about Curley's wife's personality in the final scene, her death is caused by her never ending need for attention in that once Lennie reveals that he likes to pet soft things she offers up her hair, despite him telling her that many things he pet end up dead, which is foreshadowing Curley's wife's fate.
It is apparent that Curley's wife's anger stems from continuous betrayal by men and an unmet need for attention which is the factor that helps fuel her dream of becoming an actress. This is expressed throughout the novella in that Curley's wife often mentions thatshe "coulda been in the movies." but a letter starting her career, promised by a hollywood producer she met at the Riverside Dance palace, never arrived. Naively, Curley's wife believed that her protective aunt stole the letter. This lead to Curley's wife leaving home as she believed her aunt was holding her back and her dream of becoming an actress was so strong she would not let anything get in the way. In leaving home she met Curley, who's anger, coupled with her residual anger caused by the betrayals and her lack of attention forced her to build layers over her true personality. This ultimately presented Curley's wife as an angry woman, who's seductive clothing and flirtatious gestures draw in the attention she so much desires but never used to recieve; but further analysis shows she is so much deeper.
Additionally, Curley's wife is seen only as a posession of Curley, rather like a trophy wife. The fact that Steinbeck writes the characters as never once mentioning her real name prevents the likeliness of her having a personal relationship with anyone on the ranch, including her husband. This disassociation with the boss and his son, her wife, distances her from the powers of the ranch. But in turn, her association with the authority in that she lives in the boss's house and is married to the boss's son prevents her from building a relationship with the ranchers as she is seen as a woman of power; despite the fact that she is actually very low in the heirarchy of the ranch, in terms of her freedom and rights. This extreme loneliness changed Curley's wife, leading her to knock down those of low stature on the ranch in order to make herself feel important and authoritive. This is shown when she enters Crooks's room and says, "they left all the weak ones here" suggesting that she considers herself higher in stature than Crooks, Candy and Lennie even though she is displayed as so unimportant that Steinbeck does not even dignify her with a name.
To summarize, I believe Curley's wife, although being a complicated and often sinister character, never intended to be or thought of herself as a floozy or a mean person, and although at times she was presented as one, subtle hints always arose explaining why she was acting that way and that her true personality was not shining through.
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Curley's wife has a lot of names, but we can't repeat any of them in mixed company. Let's just call her trouble: she's a good-looking woman who knows it, wearing makeup, form-fitting dresses, and ostrich-feathered high heels. (Which—let's just say it—maybe a tad impractical for a ranch?) She's basically like the Pioneer Woman, only less tech-savvy.
Poor Little Not-So-Rich Girl
But we're tender-hearted here at Shmoop headquarters, and we can't help feeling a wee bit bad for this poor girl. As the only woman on the ranch, her life is lonely, and Curley isn't much company: he'd rather talk about himself than anything else. Not that she's out to make friends, or anything. When she wanders across some of the men, she says "what am I doin'? Standin' here talkin' to a bunch of bindle stiffs—a nigger an' a dum-dum and a lousy ol' sheep—an' likin' it because they ain't nobody else" (4.103).
Way to make friends and influence people, Curley's wife.
She also talks a lot (well, twice) about how she could "of went with shows. Not jus' one, either. An' a guy tol' me he could put me in pitchers" (4.102). Was she really on the road to Hollywood glory? Well, probably not. The point is that, just like all these ranchhands with their dreams of owning their own farm, Curley's wife has—or had—a dream. And, like them, she's working with her body. They sell their labor; she sells (or at least peddles, because it doesn't seem like anyone is buying) sex.
When she dies, we get a look at the girl she might have been:
the meanness and the plannings and the discontent and the ache for attention were all gone from her face. She was very pretty and simple, and her face was sweet and young. Now her rouged cheeks and her reddened lips made her seem alive and sleeping very lightly. (5)
Can we blame Curley's wife for her pettiness, cruelty, and self-obsession? Or is she, like the ranchhands, just a victim of her circumstances?
It's probably a combination of both. She flirts deliberately with the ranch hands, to make sure they suffer Curley's hot-headed, glove-wearing wrath and to make Curley feel even worse about himself—two for the price of once.
She also knows how to use her tongue. When she barges in on Lennie, Crooks, and Candy in Chapter Four, she scornfully notes that they "left all the weak ones here" (4.92). Just like Curley, she seeks out people who are smaller and weaker to make herself feel better. She cruelly cuts down Candy for his old age and meekness, Lennie for being "a dum dum," and—oh, yeah—she tells Crooks, "I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain't even funny" (4.120).
Basically, Curley's wife is just self-obsessed, and unable to judge herself and her position honestly. At every opportunity, she talks about her lost opportunities. She speaks of a traveling actor who told her she could join their show, without gathering that this is a pretty standard pick-up line. Same with the offer to go to Hollywood: Curley's wife convinces herself that her mother stole the letter, rather than realize that the guys weren't interested in her talent.
Curley's wife's obsession with herself ultimately leads to her death. She's half-afraid of Lennie, but she also wants his attention and praise. It's not a coincidence that that she ends up dying because she didn't want Lennie to mess up her hair: look, and even touch if you want—but don't get too comfortable. She's a tease, leading guys on to make herself feel better. And she gets what she deserves (by the logic of the book): death.
Well, no one ever accused Steinbeck of being a feminist.Curley's Wife's Timeline