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How is Curley's wife presented in chapter 5 and what messages does Steinbeck convey...

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emilyb17 | Student | eNotes Newbie

Posted July 9, 2012 at 4:39 PM via web

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How is Curley's wife presented in chapter 5 and what messages does Steinbeck convey about her?

How is Curleys wife percieved to be in chapter 5 linking her presence that in any other chapter. Also elaboration and hidden meaning on the following quote.

"The resting horses stamped their feet and rattled their halter chains" and "the horses stamped and the halter chains clinked"- showing no freedom and imprisonment like Curleys wife. The quotations appear at the start and end of the chapter showing the circle of life for women at that time...horses sense tension showing she was causing tension and thought to be troublesome. Any alternative interpretation?

 

 

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William Delaney | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 8, 2013 at 1:30 PM (Answer #1)

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Steinbeck probably started off with the idea of having one man kill his best friend out of compassion, thus destroying their mutual dream of obtaining freedom from their lives of toil, homelessness, and slavery. He had to establish that the man to be killed (Lennie) would do something very bad, probably inadvertently commit a homicide. Steinbeck invented Curley's wife for this specific purpose. He had to fashion her character in such a way that the murder should seem plausible.

In analyzing fictitious characters it is confusing to think of them as real people. They are only illusions of real people. They are not creations of God but creations of a human author who can make them do anythiing and be anything he likes. Steinbeck decided that he needed a girl who was cute, naive, and flirtatious. She would have to be dreadfully naive to cuddle up to Lennie in the barn and invite him to stroke her hair. Steinbeck decided that he had to make her extremely young. At least two men refer to her as "jail bait," meaning a promiscuous underage girl who can get a man sent to prison for statutory rape. Here is how he lets her describe herself in Chapter Five.

"I lived right in Salinas," she said. "Come there when I was a kid. Well, a show come through, an' I met one of the actors. He says I could go with that show. But my ol' lady wouldn' let me. She says because I was on'y fifteen. But the guy says I coulda. If I'd went, I wouldn't be livin' like this, you bet."

Apparently she married Curley a very short time later--and Steinbeck establishes that they have not been married long. Curley might choose to marry a teenager because he has a big inferiority complex and could feel inadequate to relate to an older woman. Curley's wife must be only about sixteen. She married to get away from her "ol' lady." She has dreams of glory about being a movie star. She is flirtatious because she wants to try out her charms on the only men available. Slim understands her and pretends to play her game, but he is too smart and too kind-hearted to really get involved.

Only a totally inexperienced young girl would behave the way Curley's wife does with Lennie when they are alone in the barn. She sits close to him and invites him to stroke her hair. She is foolish enough to believe he will stop there--but she is cute and sexy, and she arouses him. He probably would have ended up raping her if he hadn't killed her trying to stop her from screaming.

Steinbeck wrote Of Mice and Men with the intention of immediately turning it into a stage play, which is what he did in collaboration with playwright Geroge Kaufman. This fact explains several things about the novella. For one thing, it explains why Steinbeck did not write any big outdoor scenes showing men at work in the fields. It also explains why there are few settings and many sound effects. He does not show the horses but merely mentions their stamping their feet and clinking their halter chains. This could be simulated offstage to create the atmosphere of the ranch and the barn. The same is true of the sounds of horseshoes thudding and sometimes clanging against the iron stake.

More importantly, it explains why so much of the exposition is given in the form of dialogue rather than in prose narrative, as is usually the case in short stories and novels. George is continually explaining things to Lennie--while in the meantime he is explaining them to the reader and will be explaining them to the audience in the play.

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