Set in 1930s America Of Mice and Men shows the apparent hardships of an America gripped in a great depression. The Wall Street crash of 1929 was making the American dream become more of a nightmare and over farming had devastated the American countryside leaving workers to migrate across the American mid west to find work. Steinbeck also worked on a ranch as a young man so the story has a personal touch from his own experiences.
With unemployment at a record high and no money available to unemployed men and women, they found themselves having to travel great distances to get work to survive and keep the American dream alive. Thousand’s made their way west to California away from their farmland’s in the mid west, The reality of working thousands of miles away from home meant the workers would get very lonely and home sick many of them having had to leave families and loved ones behind.
All the characters in the novel have certain things in common, for example working and living on a ranch coupled with dreams of a brighter future. These men actually have jobs which they are thankful for, but suffer loneliness such as being away from home in the cases of Lennie and George. Curley’s wife is subject to 1930s America where a woman’s place is in the home, an object or possession belonging to her husband. Her loneliness stems from the discontent she feels with her abusive marriage and lack of attention from her husband.
Focusing on the situation Curley’s wife is in, I will discuss how her loneliness is illustrated. We are first introduced to Curley’s wife through Candy’s description. The derogatory comments leave the reader to have an initial low opinion of the woman as she seems to be a lady who craves the company of many men. ‘I’ve seen her give slim the eye… am’ I’ve seen her give Carlson the eye. ’ (pg 29) By labelling Curley’s wife as a ‘tart’ she effectively is excluded from the men, thought of as being trouble. History has commonly portrayed women as being a major source of temptation and evil, St. Jerome, a 4th-century Latin father of the Christian church, said: “Woman is the gate of the devil, the path of wickedness, the sting of the serpent, in a word a perilous object. ”
In the 1930s church attendance was on the rise so Christian teachings on the evils of women would have been taken quite seriously. ‘This rise in church attendance and overall religious propaganda forced the overall mindset of the country to fall on the side of faith. ‘Thus, the uninhibited and liberal world of the roaring 20’s gave way to the more purist, pious space of the 1930’s. (Kiri Palm, 2005/2006)
The men on the ranch are also scared of Curley, he is the boss’ son and as a small man likes to prove his stature by beating bigger men than himself. The truth is though that Curley’s wife is controlled by her husband, who does not let her speak to any of the men on the ranch, which leads her into being lonely. Even though Curley’s wife is mentioned frequently, we never know what her name is, her role seems to be simply an appendage to her more powerful husband. This just shows how people do not care for others, leading to loneliness.
Curley had married his wife only two weeks previously in the story but her introduction in the book with her over the top friendliness, (giving all the guys the eye) suggests she is already looking towards other men for attention and possible infidelity to combat the loneliness she feels. Lennie takes an immediate liking to her “She’s purty” (page 33).
George response to Lennie’s admiring remarks is ” Listen to me, you crazy bastard “(Said fiercely) “Don’t you even take a look at that bitch, I don’t care what she says and what she does, I seen ’em poison before, But I never seen no piece of jail bait worse than her, you leave her be. (Page 33).
In this example John Steinbeck’s character dialogue is directly created showing their American slang word for word rather than refining the dialogue into correct grammar , this gives the reader a true feel of the character’s background’s and story settings. The language is extremely simple and colloquial the effect of this is that almost every sentence is important in one way or another it also highlights the fact that the characters are uneducated.
Curley’s wife knows that as the only company to be found is male she has to use her femininity to its best advantage to get attention even if it leads the workers to think less of her. Curley’s Wife feels she must dress this way for people to acknowledge her and give her attention. Her dressing-up is entirely unnecessary because they live on a farm and this is not the typical attire. The way she dresses/makes herself up proves her insecurity and her inability to feel good about whom she really is. ‘She had full rouged lips and wide-spaced eyes, heavily made up. Her fingernails were red. ’(page 32)
There is a contradiction in terms though as the men use a whore house to obtain the company they themselves desire whereas Curley’s wife seems doomed to loneliness because of her husband. Throughout the story Curley’s wife uses the excuse of looking for her husband to get the chance to talk to the men, her need to talk to them highlighting the loneliness she feels. Her unhappy marriage also highlights her need for other company – “Well, I ain’t told this to nobody before, Maybe I ought’n to, I don’t like Curley, He ain’t a nice fella. (page 87).
Her marriage is also comes across as volatile with her poor choice of husband. Curley was an ex lightweight boxer he always appears to be looking for a fight and ready for any trouble he can solve with his fists. There is also a vulgarity about his character which becomes evident in the book when he claim’s to wear a glove filled with Vaseline to keep his hand soft described by Candy on page 29 to improve his sexual performances with his wife. His own attitude towards his wife illustrates the idea that she is just a plaything, an object rather than a person.
The effect that loneliness has had on Curley’s wife’s personality really shows when Candy and Crooks the ranch hands talk to George and Lennie about a better life / better future with the chance of owning a part of their own farm. When she interrupts the conversation crushing Candy’s idea’s and dreams by laughing at them ” Baloney” She said, “I seen too many you guys , If you had two bits in the worl’, why you’d be in gettin’ two shots of corn with it and suckin’ the bottom of the glass, I know you guys. (page78)
Although outwardly this shows her jealousy towards the workers on the farm, she is actually afraid of being alone with just Curley and relies on mental manipulation to keep people near her. Curley’s Wife’s death was foreshadowed by Lennie’s reputation as a troublemaker, “You do bad things and I got to get you out,” his own death was foreshadowed through relationships between characters and the use of contrast, and the way he was killed was shown through Candy’s dog’s eath.
Later on in the story Lennie accidently kills his puppy by stroking it too hard in the barn, Curley’s wife enters wearing a bright cotton dress and the mules with the ostrich feathers, Her faced made up and hair set in sausage curls, She insists on sitting next to Lennie but Lennie doesn’t want her to and says “George says i ain’t to have nothing to do with you – talk to you or nothing ” (page 85) but she insists saying ” George giving you orders about everything ? (page 85)
She notices Lennie has something covered up and finds out it’s his pup lying motionless under the hay and consolidates Lennie, She goes on to tell Lennie in a dark way about her loneliness and what she could have been, describing herself at fifteen having had the chance to join a travelling show to become an actress, also a story about a man who promised her a role in the movies but never wrote back to her. She says how she was convinced her mum stole the letter hence her marrying Curley to get back at her mum and move out at the same time.
This honesty shows how Curley’s wife has always craved an escape from reality and that she has never escaped the isolation she has always felt. In Curley’s wife’s last scene in the book she is still in the barn with Lennie, Still as flirtatious as before and she convinces Lennie to touch her hair, Lennie who himself is lonely enjoys the connection “Oh! that’s nice ! (page 89)
Unfortunately the attention Curley’s wife has always sought goes wrong as Lennie goes too far and accidentally kills her. It is Candy who discovers the body, ‘And the meanness and the planning’s and the discontent were all gone from her face. She was pretty and simple, and her face was sweet and young.. ’ (Page 91)
In death it seems Curleys wife found the peace and happiness that had eluded her so badly in her life. Curley himself however seems more intent on catching and killing Lennie once again leaving his wife alone find a quote here. Curley’s wife is left alone in death as she had been in life. John Steinbeck uses loneliness throughout the story, The depression of the 1930’s with the need for people travelling long distances for work must have been a very difficult era to live in.
Despite the surge of support for womens rights in the 1920s the Depression of the 1930s had led to a renewal of the traditional view of women belonging at home. ‘In a depressed economy, unemployment figures escalated and federal forces concentrated on bringing Americans back to work. Or, more accurately, bringing American men back to work. For society viewed working women as un-American money grubbers, stealing jobs from men who needed them to support their families. ’ (Moran, 1989) Here I focused on Curley’s wife who although married comes across perhaps as the loneliest character of them all.
Throughout the story she has no name and comes across as just an object, she is constantly craving attention from the workers as her husband doesn’t appear supportive enough for her. Curley’s wife’s loneliness has altered her attitude towards others tremendously, making her overtly insecure and excessively flirtatious. Curley’s wife has become virtually another person because of loneliness. The men on the ranch avoid her because of her flirtatious personality to keep out of trouble. No one understands her situation and how loneliness affects her. Her insecurity is evident by the way she dresses and utilizes her make-up.
Curley’s wife’s isolation produced a woman whose lust for companionship ultimately caused her to become a sexually suggestive person which eventually led to her own demise ironically seeming to give her the happiness she was so desperate for.
- 1930s, America – Feminist Void? The status of the Equal Rights Movement during the Great Depression Mickey Moran http://www. loyno. edu/~history/journal/1988-9/moran. htm
- The Beauty and Tragedy of the 1930s Kiri Palm 2005-2006 http://my. ilstu. edu/~lmerri/uhigh/The%20Beauty%20and%20Tragedy%20of%20the%201930%27s/religion. html