How is Curley's wife presented through her dialogue in Of Mice and Men and what does it say about her?
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In Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, one of the few characters who is not named is Curley's wife. Nevertheless, she has plenty of personality. The first time we hear of her is through Candy's description of her: "she got the eye"; a phrase which means that even though she is married, she is interested in other men. Candy also describes her as physically attractive, which immediately should set up the reader with the expectation that she is going to cause trouble in the story.
Later, Curley comes into the bunkhouse looking for his wife because he thinks that she is with another man, Slim.
After Steinbeck has created significant anticipation about Curley's wife, she eventually appears at the bunkhouse about two-thirds of the way through the novel:
"Her face was heavily made up. Her lips were slightly parted. She breathed strongly, as though she had been running."
The men know that the mere presence of this sexually-charged woman will cause trouble for them and eventually they practically beg her to leave.
In the course of her appearance at the bunkhouse, Curley's wife hints that she has dreams of a life better than that on the barley farm. She expands upon these dreams during her fatal encounter with Lennie in the barn. She tells Lennie about a man she met once who told her that he could make her a movie star.
Thus, having revealed her dream to Lennie, Curley's wife dies, killed by the unwitting Lennie. Ultimately, Lennie too will die at the hands of George, who tells Lennie about the dream that they share.
Curley's wife only explains her own thoughts and feelings in the fifth chapter when she is talking to Lennie, who hardly comprehends what she is talking about.
"Coulda been in the movies, an' had nice clothes--all them nice clothes like they wear. An' I coulda sat in them big hotels, an' had pitchers took of me. When they had them previews I coulda went to them, an' spoke in the radio, an' it wouldn'ta cost me a cent because I was in the pitcher. An' all them nice clothes like they wear. Because this guy says I was a natural."
Her monologue shows, for one thing, that she must be very young. She is a high-school dropout who has picked up her fantasies from movies and movie magazines. She is probably only sixteen years old. She almost ran away from home with an "actor" when she was fifteen, and then she married Curley shortly thereafter, mainly to escape from her home and her mother. One of the men describes her as "the kid." Although she always presents herself as sexually alluring and provocative, this is all an act. She is probably not interested in sex at all and is practically a virgin in spite of being married. She is only practicing being seductive because of her one dominant motivation, which is to be a movie star and live a life of luxury. This is why she behaves like many adolescent girls who are trying to look older and sexier and more sophisticated: she over-dresses, wears too much makeup and perfume, and arranges her hair in an extravagant fashion. She is only trying to play the role of a glamorous movie queen--but she is too young by at least four or five years to fill such a role, even if she had the requisite talent and the connections. She is just a kid. Slim realizes that. He is kind and sympathetic, not really tempted by her but just playing a sort of game with her, pretending to believe she is really the irresistible temptress, the femme fatale, she would like to be. She is not really interested in having an extramarital affair with any of these farm hands, but only in seeing if she can attract their attention and in discovering what sort of effect she can have on men in general. Her whole aim is to become a movie star--and she realizes that she has to be seductive in order to achieve that goal.
Well, youth is the period of assumed personalities and disguises. It is the time of the sincerely insincere. --V. S. Pritchett
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