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The theme of loneliness and isolation is pervasive in this novel. Curley's wife's dream of stardom exemplifies her feeling of separation. She desires to interact with the world and wants people to admire her beauty and talent. If she was a movie star then some of her loneliness would subside.
The fact that this dream will never come true due to her marriage to Curley and the grim life on the farm, makes her desperate for attention. Hungry for acknowledgement from anyone including individuals who are not her husband. This need for negative attention caused her to be alone with Lennie. Time alone with Lennie eventually results in her untimely death. She is a symbol of dreams lost and never realized.
Her dream of being an actress didn't really change her behavior. It was the thought that her dreams had been shattered that caused her to rush into marriage with Curley. Just before she met Curley, a man who said he was in the movies promised to write to her when he left. She never got a letter, probably because he was lying so he could take advantage of her. However, Curley's wife also blamed her mother for intercepting the letter. The entire experience embittered her so she was willing to run off with Curley to get away from her mother and also the memories of her shattered dream. Unfortunately, running away from your problems usually isn't the best course of action, as she found out.
In describing the dead girl, Steinbeck concludes with:
Now her rouged cheeks and her reddened lips made her seem alive and sleeping very lightly. The curls, tiny little sausages, were spread on the hay behind her head, and her lips were parted.
Curley's wife spent much of her time alone because there were no women for her to associate with and the men shunned her. She has no inner resources. She is probably only semi-literate. There was, of course, no television in those days and very little on the radio to interest a teenage girl. She must have spent many hours looking at herself in the mirror and experimenting with makeup and hair styles. The curls were certainly not natural but were the result of much time and patient effort with a curling iron. She was evidently copying young Shirley Temple, who was a super-star at the time and noted for her blonde curls, which were likewise artificial and had to be restored every night, although the public was not aware of this.
Steinbeck takes great pains to make the reader aware that Curley's wife is a very young girl. She was hanging around the Riverside Dance Palace in Salinas when she was only fifteen, as she tells Lennie in the barn, and married Curley shortly after nearly leaving home with two other men. So she is only fifteen or sixteen. Steinbeck apparently wanted Lennie's victim to be extremely young because an older woman would know better than to get too close to Lennie or to invite him to feel her hair. Also, Lennie is attracted to small things and would be attracted to a young girl. Steinbeck even gives him the last name of Small. Steinbeck probably invented the little curls to suggest a visual comparison with Shirley Temple, who was only nine years old when Of Mice and Men was published, but had been making three or four movies a year for the past several years and was world-famous.
Curley's wife is terribly naive. She wants Lennie to stop stroking her hair, not because she senses he is becoming sexually aroused, but because she doesn't want her curls to get undone after she had spent so much time perfecting them.
"Don't you muss it up," she said.
"Look out, now, you'll muss it....You stop it now, you'll mess it all up."
There are other reasons why Steinbeck, in plotting his story, wanted to have Lennie to kill a girl who was very young. George feels compassion for her when he sees her lying there dead. He realizes the enormous wrongness in a pretty girl having her life snuffed out, along with her hopes and dreams, however unrealistic, by an imbecile who has no future and is becoming a menace to society. This is one of the reasons George decides to shoot Lennie.
Curley's wife has a different dream. She dreams of being a film star. She obviously hated the place where she grew up and when she was told she had the potential to be in movies she thought she could escape to Hollywood. However, she never got as far as Hollywood and ended up being trapped on the ranch with no one to talk to. Curley is not interested in her dream and the only person she finds to share it with is Lennie.
Some man put a lot of foolish notions in Curley's wife's head when he told her that she had the looks and talent to make it big in Hollywood. She is obviously very young. From what she tells Lennie about herself in the barn, it would appear that she is only about sixteen. The fact that she has dreams of actually being a movie star explains why she behaves in such a seductive manner around the ranch hands. She is practicing on them, trying to see what effects she can produce with her poses and her amateurish makeup. She is not interested in sex, not even with her husband. She is just playing games. This kind of behavior is often to be observed in young teenage girls. Curley himself has a big inferiority complex because of his small size. This would seem to explain why he would marry such a young girl. It also explains why he is a muscle-builder and a amateur boxer and why he is always picking fights.
If she would have became an actress she would have gotten the chance to interact with people but since she didn't, she married Curley and lived with him. She became lonely because she had no one at all to talk to, that's why she always talks to the workers.
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