In the early stages of the book, she is presented through the eyes of the other characters, in very unflattering terms like “tramp” and “bitch”. Only innocent Lennie has a less negative response, “She’s perty,” for which George hastily reprimands her. George fears that she will get them into trouble and calls her “jailbait”: he has seen too many women like her, married women who seduce men and get them into trouble.
Curley’s wife is aware of the power of her attractiveness and aims to use it to her advantage: she always dresses in “red” and is “heavily made out”. We might interpret this unflatteringly and as evidence of her promiscuous status, as she has no reason to be so dressed up on a ranch; equally, as the colour red represents both lust and danger, the latter being apt foreshadowing for later events in the story. But right from our first meeting with her, Steinbeck hints that there is more to her than George’s harsh stereotype.
She is described in the narrative as a “girl”, which suggests her youth and her innocence, which are picked up later when she tells Lennie that a director told her she was “a natural” actor and “soon’s he got back to Hollywood he was gonna write to me about it. ” She never got a letter, however, and the little episode suggests how gullible she is: that she was taken in by a man who was flattering her, presumably, to just have sex with her.
Even her broken dream – to be an actress – suggests that she is attempting to break from the conventional sphere of the woman; no matter how naive her dream, it is essentially a working woman’s dream, not a housewife’s. Her appearance and her dream harken back to the earlier ‘good times’ of the ‘Roaring ’20s’, when women won the right to vote and began entering the workforce, and were able to begin openly acknowledging their sexual desires: yet, ten years later, this same liberality is used to beat women down and pin them as the cause of Depression. Her clothing, then, perhaps, is a sign of the still prevalent inequality and injustice.