“Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck Analysis

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How Far Do You Agree That Curley’s Wife Is a Victim and Deserves Our Sympathy?

The novel ‘Of Mice and Men’ was written by John Steinbeck in 1936. It is set in the society of the 1920’s. The author sets up our perception of the character ‘Curley’s wife’ in a way that allows us to develop our understanding of her, and enables us to later decide how far we agree that she is an innocent and vulnerable victim, or a manipulator who deserves her fate. We are first introduced to the character ‘Curley’s wife’ in chapter two by Candy. We immediately see her being blamed for causing her husband’s arrogance “Curley is cockier’n ever since he got married”.

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An image of her as someone who should be blamed is therefore set up this early in the novel. Soon after this we get an impression of her appearance. Candy describes her as “purty”. This shows she has a ‘pretty’ physical appearance. When we first look at this comment we see it as a positive one but when we explore this we see that this could be a bad position for women when being looked at by men, and that she could be called a ‘sex object’. On the other hand we could say she deserves this impression because Candy warns George and Lenny about her: “She got the eye” and “I think Curley’s married a tart”.

This comment not only implies she is someone not to be trusted, but that she is sexually promiscuous and flirts with other men. They also imply that she is unfaithful as she has only been married to her husband for “a couple of weeks”. Steinbeck then gives us a full description of her. The information contained backs up Candy’s evidence for calling her a tart. She is described as “heavily made up”, with “fully rouged lips”, and “red fingernails”. All of this highlights her sexual promiscuity, but also, by using the colour red, we can associate it with things such as danger, passion, and sex.

These also show how attractive and sexually available she is. She can also be seen as inappropriate and provocative as she wears a ‘cotton house dress’ out of doors, which is too personal. Also she is wearing “red mules” and “red ostrich feathers”, hardly the usual attire for a ranch. She has her hair in “sausage curls”, which makes her seem slightly ridiculous to the reader. In all, Steinbeck presents a clear and thorough description of her. Much more can be said about her image as even though her question had been answered she “leaned against the door frame, body thrown forward”.

This shows that even though she is being flirtatious, she is desperately seeking attention, and opens our minds to the possibility of sympathising with her for being so desperate and lonely. George, who is a character we trust, speaks very negatively about Curley’s wife. He is very sarcastic and after calling her “a tramp”, and laying emphasis on her promiscuous manner, he says “she’s sure hiding it”. This sarcasm is powerful because we realise that George thinks the exact opposite – that she’s showing her body too much.

He insults her further by saying that she is a “bitch”. He also highlights the fact that she is manipulative and a trap for all men who dare to get involved with her “jail bait” and “rat trap”. By this point in the novel Steinbeck seems to be encouraging us to feel sympathy with and understand for George. Therefore we might not regard these comments as outrageous on first reading. However, when we learn later about the company she has lived among, we begin to sense she is merely craving attention, and her promiscuity is the only way she has found to gain it.

George expands on this idea by saying “a ranch with a bunch of guys ain’t no place for a girl”. These words make it clear that she is very alone in her situation – a rough masculine environment. George says “there’s gonna be a bad mess about her”. This shows George is worried about getting involved with her. In response Wit says casually “if you got ideas, you ought to come into town”. Wit is suggesting visiting a brothel as a way of satisfying these urges. He goes on to describe the differences between the two cathouses.

The men prefer Suzy’s place because she’s “a laugh” and likes cracking jokes. Suzy even jokes about the law “run here’s the sheriff”. This reveals that their understanding is so limited that they find the exploitation and risk involved in prostitution funny. They like the way Suzy is so relaxed about sex if a guy don’t want a flop, why he can just set in the chairs”. She talks about it like any other commodity and accepts that it is a woman’s purpose.

Suzy undermines the rival brothel ‘Clara’s House’, by suggesting that even though it may be more fashionable, the girls have STI’s – “if any ou guys want look at a kewpie doll lamp and take your own chance getting burned, why you know where to go”. This shows that women like Suzy are forced to be competitive and to make themselves a business as they have no other way. George accepts this and prefers “a good whore house” to having a relationship. The price is his only focus and concern as he says “I ain’t puttin out no two and a half”. This is an outrageous approach to women and sex which should not be accepted by the modern reader.

But as previously stated, we trust George, and don’t feel much sympathy for Curley’s wife, being a woman in this society, until we understand the victimisation of women in a society where they are forced into a male stereotype. A stage in the novel where my sympathy towards Curley’s wife fluctuates a great deal, is when she enters Crooks’ room on Saturday night. First we get another sexual description of her to further emphasise that she is a tart. She makes an excuse for entering “any you boys seen Curley? ”- Even though she later says that she knows where he is.

This reinforces her loneliness also. This is an interesting part of the novel because all the people present are victims: Lennie who has a child like mentality; Crooks who is black and has a crooked back; Candy who is old and useless, with only one hand; and Curley’s wife who is a woman. They are all victims because the society they live in is prejudiced against them. Steinbeck highlights the fact that she is unaware of this by using irony when she says “they left all the weak ones here”. We can see she is also a ‘weak one’, and we feel more sympathy for her because she is oblivious to this.

However she has noticed the men’s sour approach to her, and she is intelligent enough to realise that they are scared. Crooks says: “we don’t want no trouble”. Like the other men he’s afraid of Curley – “you gotta husband” he says, and “he’d slough me”. In the society of the time a man’s wife was his possession, and she is not allowed any relationship whatsoever with other men “ain’t I allowed to talk to nobody? ” In response to Candy she “flared up” because she is angry. She shows how she feels about Curley when she says “swell guy ain’t he”. This is very sarcastic and shows she does not love him.

She takes the point further by highlighting his violent approach to other people and the way he talks so much about fighting “spends all his time sayin what he’s gonna do to guys he don’t like”. This also suggests that he is so self absorbed that he has no time for her, hence her feelings of loneliness. She feels cooped up in their ‘two by four house’, living in an oppressive and claustrophobic atmosphere. So our sympathy towards Curley’s wife builds. On the other hand we get a hugely negative view of her when she goes on to insult Candy and Lennie, and attack Crooks.

She uses derogatory names for them like ‘bindle stiffs’, and describes them as “a nigger, an a dumdum, and a lousy ol sheep”. We perceive her as being the “bitch” Candy described her as. Our sympathy decreases further when she targets Crooks with a string of racist abuse, threatening to have him “strung up on a tree”. This is no empty threat as we must remember that in their society this was not an uncommon punishment for a Negro discovered to be having a relationship with a white woman. Our sympathy for Crooks is however tempered by the obvious parallels in the manner in which Crooks treated Lennie not long before.

Steinbeck tells us how “Crooks face lighted in his torture”. We can see the similarities between the two characters, Crooks and Curley’s wife, who have to hurt people weaker than them to make up for the hurt they themselves have suffered. It is because she feels so vulnerable that Curley’s wife seeks out the weaknesses in others: she preys upon Lennie’s mental handicap, Candy’s uselessness, Crooks disability and the colour of his skin. Thus her character becomes more complex and she admits to feeling a kind of shameless dissatisfaction with her life.

The fact that they are all victims of the society they live in – a society where the weak are victimised, isolated, and marginalised, sets our growing sympathy for Curley’s wife in a wider social context, that of an unjust society so we realise that she is greatly victimised because of this. We learn more about how ‘Curley’s wife’ is a victim in her marriage relationship when she says to Lennie, “I like machines”. We see that she is attracted to him because he hurt her husband. This shows us how desperate her marriage is and her thoughts towards Curley are only of hate and revenge “sometimes I’d like to bust him myself”.

We see that she is a victim of a husband who doesn’t love her and she is trapped in a society which thinks she should tolerate it. However we cannot justify her longing for revenge so our sympathy is restricted. Her attraction to Lennie makes her death inevitable because she is drawn to him. We also discover from her life story which she expresses so deeply to Lennie that her marriage to Curley may not have been for love from the beginning but only to punish her mother for ruining her dream “ol lady wouldn’t let me”, “so I married Curley”.

Dreams are a major theme in the novel and for Curley’s wife, like many other characters she was driven by them even if they were not properly realised. We sympathise with her when we see her dream was to be famous in a “Hollywood” “show” and we realise it could have been the exploitation of a girl who is “on’y fifteen” by a “man-in the pitchers” She is a child so she is a victim-naive and innocent. However she could be called silly or vain as she had an over estimation of herself thinking herself a talented actress.

When Steinbeck writes “little finger stuck out grandly” -“to show that she could act” we see that this does not prove she has any talent at all. Also we can assume her speech and vocabulary is not at a high enough standard for being an actress as she has a “nasal”, “brittle” voice. She is therefore deluded but in any case, overall I think she deserves to have a dream like anybody else so I feel sympathy for her here. On the day of her death, Curley’s wife is very trusting of Lennie “she knelt down beside him” and she chooses him to confide in because she knows Curley can’t hurt him “you can break his other han”.

Her attraction to Lennie makes her death inevitable as does the death of the puppy just before. The irony in the way she implies the dead puppy can be replaced as it is “just a mutt” is significant because she too will be easily replaced, makes the reader sympathetic towards her, because she is unaware of her imminent death. As there is another repetition of her sexual appearance and she calls him “sonny boy” we could perceive this quote as teasing or flirtatious but when we see her genuine kindness “don’t you worry none” we realise she is just being friendly so we don’t see her as a bad person here.

Curley’s wife is so desperate just to talk to someone and for them to understand her that when Lennie doesn’t and dismisses her she gets “angry” and she pours out her soul to him; “her words tumbled out in a passion of communication. ” I feel very sympathetic towards her here because her extreme loneliness is clear and repeated many times “I never get to talk to nobody, I get awful lonely”. When Curley’s wife lets

Lennie stroke her hair we can see she is only being kind to him, and wants him as a friend and thinks he is a “kinda nice fella” and she is being almost maternal towards him and realises that he is just a “big baby”, she isn’t inviting a sexual response. Therefore we see she is misunderstood and I don’t see her as a manipulator in any way. Steinbeck’s use of structure at this stage in the book is effective as the telling of her life is followed by the telling of her death and I feel the most sympathy at that point. This makes her exit from the story have impact.

It is emotional which makes us see her as a victim. Our sympathy increases further when we are shown how disturbing and traumatic her death was. Her “eyes were wild with terror” and she “struggled violently”. We can see how Lennie’s fear of getting caught and her fear of Lennie lead to her death, so we see them both as victims in this situation. In great contrast Steinbeck tells us that she has died in a very sudden and matter of fact way “for Lennie had broken her neck. ” This makes it shocking whilst remaining so simple in comparison.

Candy’s dream was destroyed when she died so he is angry and confused. He leaves her with cruel words and calls her a “god dam tramp” and thrusts all the blame on her “you done it, di’n’t you? ” Similarly when Curley is told of her death his only focus is to get Lennie “I’ll shoot him in the guts” and he ignores Slims appropriate suggestion “why don’t you stay with your wife? ” so we see that he had no real affection for her and he doesn’t want to be with his wife at the time of her death so I feel dreadfully pitiful for her here.

Steinbeck describes Curley’s wife in her death and freezes the moment and tells us that “sound stopped” so we respond emotionally and sympathise with her. The writer suggests that she is innocent and beautiful in death and that malice and her flirtatiousness was forced upon her. He says “The meanness and the planning’s and the discontent and the ache for attention were all gone from her face” and that “She was now pretty and simple” her sexually arousing appearance had also gone and we feel the utmost sympathy here as her victimisation all becomes clear.

In conclusion I altogether agree that Curley’s wife is a victim and that she deserves our sympathy. Based on the fact that her society inflicted the cruelty and desperate crave for attention upon her, she is a victim many times over and her loneliness is equated with promiscuity, blame and temptation. However I feel that we could never completely justify her outrageous behaviour towards other victims in the novel and her longing for revenge against her mother and her husband.

She has made many wrong decisions and she has behaved very naively in the past. Therefore some of the problems she faces in the novel may have been brought about by her previous decisions and her victimisation, in some occasions may have been brought upon herself. Nevertheless I feel she is wrongly characterized and even though we can’t wholly excuse her for these things, the links between her behaviour and the harsh environment that has suppressed her become increasingly apparent as the novel progresses.

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“Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck Analysis. (2019, May 01). Retrieved from


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