Initially the character of Curley’s Wife is described to the readers by the men on the ranch that George and Lennie last work on, in their conversations with each other, before Curley’s Wife’s character is fully introduced with speech and description of physical appearance. Expressions, such as the idiom “she got the eye”, are used to describe her, implying that she is promiscuous and flirtatious, something that is later emphasised by her being referred to by the derogatory term of “tart£, implying that she is suggestive and perhaps even similar to a prostitute in terms of the way she portrays herself.
The word “tart” could also suggest that she presents herself flamboyantly in front of the men at the ranch, illustrating her desperation for attention. The fact that she is married and is still promiscuous and portrays herself flamboyantly in front of other men could suggest that she is unfaithful and immoral, or alternatively that her sexual needs are not fulfilled by her husband, providing a reasonable explanation to why Curley wears a glove “fulla vasaline”, something that is seen as “dirty” by George.
She is described to be “heavily made up” which could add to her being unfaithful and untrue as she almost is disguised and covered up by cosmetics, covering her real natural appearance. Steinbeck purposefully conveys Curley’s Wife negatively through the ranch men in order to create an initial pessimistic and hateful approach toward her character by the readers. The lack of power and authority that revolves around Curley’s Wife is personified through her being referred to as either merely someone’s wife, or, through derogatory terms such as “tart” and “jailbait”, by the men at the ranch.
Her lack of identity could be a symbol purposefully created by the author to inform the readers about the insignificance of a woman’s role in society during the Great Depression, and how men were far more dominant in relationships, leading to women having unequal, if any, power. Men are shown to be more dominant as instead of Curley being referred to as his wife’s husband; his wife is referred to as his wife, and never by her own name. Also, her being talked about as someone’s wife could suggest she is seen more as a possession than a person.
Furthermore her lack of identity straight away demotes her status at the ranch, making her seem unimportant and also making her similar to other powerless and low status people on the ranch such as Candy and Crooks. There is a sense of irony in section four when Curley’s Wife refers to Crooks, Candy and Lennie as the “weak ones” on the ranch, when they have been left behind by other workers who have gone out, whereas she doesn’t even acknowledge the fact that she isn’t even called by her name, and is seen more of a possession and item of Curley, rather than a person.
As the novel progresses and develops, so does the character of Curley’s Wife. Curley’s Wife is portrayed as bold and dangerous character when she is fully introduced, developing her from being someone who isn’t known well or cared about, to someone who is feared, as she is avoided by everyone, hence making her powerful. At times it seems that even her own husband is trying to abandon her as she is always “Looking for Curley”. Part of the reason to why she is avoided includes the ranch workers thinking of her as “jailbait” and a “rat trap”.
The words “bait” and “trap” are cross linked as one has connotations such as allurement, temptation and imply her being provocative, where the other has connotations such as fear suffering and imply her being dangerous, therefore displaying her as powerful. The colour of her lips is red, “rouged lips”, her nails are red “her fingernails were red” and, the colour of her shoes is red “she wore/.. red mules”. The colour red has connotations such as fire, fury, anguish and pain, emphasising the point that she is dangerous.
Alternatively, the colour red also has connotations such as romance, allurement, seduction and lust, emphasising the point that she is provocative and “bait” like, as she leads people into jeopardy. Furthermore, the fact that Lennie’s described as a “bull” by George and Curley’s Wife is shown to choose red as her main colour for her appearance further emphasises the point that she is provocative as in bull fighting the bull fighter uses a red coloured cloth to aggravate the bull and make it follow the fighter.
Steinbeck could have also done this to give the readers a clue and a head start about Curley’s Wife’s and George and Lennie’s fate, how she is bound to doom the two. Also, Steinbeck uses light to symbolically show that Curley’s wife can be daunting and commanding as when she enters the barn house the light is removed, “The rectangle of sunshine in the doorway was cut off. ” Her removing light creates darkness which is symbolism for malevolence and evil, therefore signifying how dangerous she is which then emphasises her power.
Steinbeck uses different techniques, such as the description of Curley’s Wife’s appearance, to further add to our initial negative perceptions of her. Our negative feelings toward Curley’s Wife begin to change when she enters Crooks’ room where he is talking to Lennie and Candy. Curley’s Wife enters and uses the same excuse for her arrival, she is looking for Curley. As the entire ranch men fear her, Candy and Crooks scowl down “away from her eyes”, showing the intensity of her power over them that they are too afraid to even look at her.
At this point, our hateful perceptions of her grow further as she makes the already uncomfortable and pessimistic men very agitated, and even exploits their fears when she threatens Crooks, making him “pressed/.. against the wall” with fright, “I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny”. After cold and responses from the men paired with their desire for her to leave them alone, we see that the only reason why Curley’s Wife is so threatening and attention seeking, is because of her loneliness “Think I don’t like to talk to somebody ever’ once in a while? , and desire to live life and enjoy herself instead of staying trapped in her home “Think I like to stick in that house alla time? ”. The use of rhetorical questions states that Steinbeck wants the readers to reflect on the negatives of her life, creating sympathy and compassion towards her character from the readers, a change from the earlier hate and anger. Curley’s Wife also uses the rhetorical question to show to the men how obvious it is that she’s living a miserably tedious lifestyle, which again gains sympathy from the readers.
Alternatively, Steinbeck may have used these rhetorical questions to notify and remind the readers again about the insignificance of a woman’s role in society at that time, and also the role of a typical domestic wife, just staying and home with no form whatsoever of entertainment. Also, Steinbeck makes Curley’s Wife use sarcasm while describing her husband to the men “Swell guy, ain’t he? ” to clearly imply her disliking for her and resentfulness for her husband.
The readers start to feel even more for her as we realise that she is young woman who has made a bad decision, resulting in the ordeal of her spending the rest of her life with someone she doesn’t even like, let alone love. Our empathy for her increases when she mentions how despite the people she talks to are no way near her ideal choice, she still enjoys it as it’s the only contact she has with anyone else “an’ likin’ because they ain’t nobody else”.
Her disliking for him is emphasised when she praises Lennie for hurting her husband, talks about he deserves it and when she wishes she could do it herself “He got it comin’ to him. Sometimes I’d like to bus him myself”. In the final scene, Steinbeck changes all of our initial negative perceptions of Curley’s Wife when she discusses her life with Lennie. Straight away we see her desperation for a normal conversation with someone as out of all of the men, the only one she can talk to is the one who is mentally disabled and who she thinks of as “a dum –dum”, however she still chooses to talk to him.
Also, Steinbeck mentions how she uses different ways to approach “came very quietly” and stay in a long conversation “she changed the subject” with people, displaying how she needs to find new ways, such as secretly approaching or topic changing, to be able to come close to someone or last in a even short conversation with people, which again gains sympathy and pity from the audience. This desperation is later emphasised as Steinbeck describes how Curley’s Wife “hurried before her listener could be taken away”.
Her consolidating Lennie about him killing his puppy completely changes any hateful or even remotely negative perceptions we had of her because it demonstrates how she wasn’t using her looks to get people in trouble, but to just have a normal conversation with her and also it erases the fact that she likes to torment powerless people, e. g. Crooks, as she shows her understanding side towards Lennie when she can easily scare him further and tell George.
She continues and talks about how instead of living a tedious and miserable life with someone she doesn’t remotely like, she could have lived the exciting glamorous lifestyle of a Hollywood actor, and how her mother, a very important and dear figure in her life, betrayed her, ending her up with Curley. Steinbeck makes the readers almost want to help Curley’s wife after making them see the life she is currently living, and seeing the life she could have lived.
An example of this is when she talks about how she lives in a “two-by-four house”, and hates listening her husband’s tales whereas she could have had “pitchers took of” her while she was in “big hotels”. Her thinking negatively about all of the dearest figures in life, e. g. her husband and mother, conveys how she has nobody she can turn to or trust. Steinbeck shows how she has now become so desperate for attention that despite seeing all of the previous consequences of Lennie petting soft things and hearing about them from him “An’ then he was dead”, she allows him to feel her hair, leading to her suffering death.
All of our initial ideas and perceptions about her being powerful, bold and dangerous change completely as dies. We get the impression that she dies helplessly and struggling, through the simile used by Steinbeck “her body flopped like a fish”, as fish move very fast and vigorously when they are out of water. Furthermore, Steinbeck referring to her as a small, harmless animal erases all ideas we initially had about her being powerful and makes us like her even more. Curley’s Wife remains consistent throughout the text.
However our opinions of her change. We first think of her as a tart and a flirt who refuses to by her husband’s side. As we hear more of her own words we begin to feel a lot more sympathy for her. We are never told her name. To the men she is always the property of Curley and, because of this, should not stray from him. Her dreams were shattered by marriage and her relatively young life cut short by her desire for human contact. Steinbeck has created a character for us to feel sympathetic towards.