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Craving attention and knowing that the ranch hands go all week without seeing any women besides her, Curley's wife certainly takes advantage of the men's sexual deprivation by dressing and posing in an alluring manner. In Chapter 2, she practices her acting skills, positioning herself in a doorway with the sunshine at her back; her appearance is much like the vamp:
She had full, rouged lips and wide-spaced eyes, heavily made up. Her fingernails were red. Her hair hung in little rolled clusters, like sausages. She wore a cotton house dress and red mules, on the insteps of which were little bouquets of red ostrich feathers.
As she speaks to George she is playful and smiles "archly and twitche[s] her body" in obvious seductive movement. That she is attractive is evinced in Slim's greeting to her as he passes through the doorway, "Hi, Goodlookin'." After she leaves, a dazzled Lennie remarks admiringly, "Gosh, she was purty." Seeing the look in his eyes, George grabs Lennie by the ear, scolding him and warning him that she is a "piece of jail bait"; in no uncertain terms, he tells Lennie to "leave her be." When Lennie argues that he has not done anything, George counters,
"No, you never. But when she was standin' in the doorway showin' her legs, you wan't lookin' the other way, neither."
Clearly, then, Curley's wife is, indeed, attractive to all and, indeed, alluring. Some interpretations of Curley's wife define her as the temptress, an "Eve" who lures the men away from the fraternity which will afford them friendship and support since she tempts Lennie and, thus, effects the dissolution of the dream.
The precise age of Curley's wife is not stated, but there are indications that she is very young. When Lennie says, "Gosh, she was purty," George blows up.
"Listen to me, you crazy bastard," he 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 here. You leave her be."
"Jail bait" has always meant a promiscuous underage girl who can get a man sent to prison for statutory rape. (At that time the "age of consent" was eighteen.) At least one other man refers to her as "jail bait." Late in the novel when she is talking to Lennie in the barn she tells part of her life's story and indicates that she wanted to run away with a man when she was only fifteen. She could have been as young as sixteen when she married Curley. Her story makes it clear that she was anxious to find a man and get away from home as soon as possible.
The probable reasons for Steinbeck's making her so young were to make her seem physically frail and easy for Lennie to kill by shaking her. She would also seem more indiscreet than an older woman, since she has no worldly experience. An older woman might realize that it was not a good idea to be alone with a feeble-minded giant who liked to pet pretty things. The reader senses from the moment that Curley's wife appears in the barn that there is going to be serious trouble, but the young girl is oblivious to the potential danger. There are some very young girls who like to try out their newly discovered sex appeal on all men, and Curley's wife is of this type. (Steinbeck often deals in "types," as he does with Curley himself, who is the type of small man who acts pugnaciously and goes in for martial arts and/or body building to compensate for a feeling of inferiority.)
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