Compare and contrast how the characters of Lady Macbeth and Curley’s wife are presented in Macbeth and Of Mice and Men.

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shake99 | Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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William Shakespeare, in Macbeth, and John Steinbeck, in Of Mice and Men, have each created memorable female characters. These are not the only enduring female characters from these writers: Shakespeare also gave the world the beautiful and poetic Juliet Montague, while Steinbeck created the tough, iconic Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath.

In Macbeth and Of Mice and Men, Lady Macbeth and Curley’s wife play crucial roles in moving the stories toward their climaxes.

In most ways these characters are very different. Lady Macbeth is royalty, first the wife of a thane, then a queen in her own right. She is a respected member of her social class. Her husband considers her an equal (at least in the first half of the story) and comes to her for advice and direction. She is capable of manipulating her husband to do things he would not do of his own volition. One of the play’s greatest lines comes as Lady Macbeth attempts to rally Macbeth’s courage and follow their plan to kill King Duncan:

But screw your courage to the sticking-place,

and we’ll not fail.

Her exhortations work, and Macbeth does what she wants him to do, almost against his own will.

Curley’s wife, on the other hand, is a poor girl with unrealized and hopeless dreams of finding fame as an actress. She doesn’t even have a name in the story—she is simply referred to as Curley’s wife. She has no power over her husband Curley, who leaves her at home, alone, neglected, and bored. She is not respected by the men on the ranch; in fact, she is shunned as a potential troublemaker. Whereas Lady Macbeth has the guile and skill to make things happen according to her ambition, Curley’s wife has none, and so she befriends the only person who will listen to her: Lennie.

Their similarity lies primarily in their function in the story. Each of these female characters unknowingly sparks a male character into action that ultimately grows into a destructive fire that they cannot control and are ultimately consumed by. Macbeth becomes a violent monster, going far beyond Lady Macbeth’s original intention of acquiring the throne by killing King Duncan. As Macbeth begins to kill everyone who stands in his way, including women and children, Lady Macbeth is wracked by guilt and eventually kills herself. Curley’s wife is also destroyed by her own actions as she tells Lennie to stroke her hair:

She took Lennie’s hand and put it on her head. “Feel right aroun’ there an’ see how soft it is.

Then she panics when he is too rough, which in turn panics Lennie into unintentionally killing her.

The deaths of these female characters quickly leads to the ultimate downfall of the men involved. Macbeth is killed in a sword battle by Macduff. Lennie is killed by George, who wants to spare him from capture and torture by Curley and the other men.

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ransonm13 | eNotes Newbie

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Matthew Ranson

Friday 15th May 2015

Compare and contrast how the characters of Lady Macbeth and Curley’s Wife are presented in “Macbeth” and “Of Mice and Men”

In the play Macbeth written by William Shakespeare the character Lady Macbeth is first portrayed as a sensible royal princes, but with an evil twist “come you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts” this suggests that lady Macbeth likes death and she wants to be a queen but ding so acts like a witch which links back to the beginning of the play were there has been an arm amputation of someone and the witches are making a potion and then chanting a warning “fair is foul and foul is fair” which suggests that the play is going to be a gory one. It also suggests that the suspected are the unsuspected and vice versa. Lady Macbeth is thought to be the unsuspected because a lady figure in Jacobean England would not be seen as murderer.

The other unsuspected character is Curley’s wife out of the novel “Of Mice and Men” authored by Mr J Steinbeck. Curley’s wife is first portrayed as a very stuck up sexually attractive, very young middle class women “no one can hurt looking” which suggests she is good looking but taken i.e married. However “she’s got the eye” which suggests that she although taken has a roving eye and likes to look at other men besides Curley which may also suggest she is unhappy and not impressed with her husband Curley “I don’t like Curley he ain’t a nice fella” which makes the other characters think that being so young she is “Jailbait” and also because she is always flirting. So when we first see Curley’s wife she is portrayed, like Lady Macbeth, as a good looking women but is lacking in confidence where ever she goes and could end up being victimised. Sayings like “I don’t like Curley he ain’t a nice fella” make it look like she really does not like Curley.

Steinbeck wrote what he saw. He wrote about prostitutes because they were so common in his post-Victorian world, and he wrote about them without the hypocritical harsh judgement and disdain that was also prevalent at the time. That would have been misogynistic. Steinbeck had no axe to grind about women. If, as in the case of Curley's wife, he shows a woman's cruelty, it's because it was there and he'd seen it. He simply held up a mirror to society so we could see ourselves objectively. Shakespeare's representation of women, and the ways in which his female roles are interpreted and enacted, have become topics of interest. The ruthlessness of Lady Macbeth, the opportunistic unkindness and the manipulative power makes her look like a bully. Shakespeare's young women characters, who commonly display great intelligence, vitality, and a strong sense of personal independence. Stereotyped characterizations of women are common to his earlier plays.

Both Lady Macbeth and Curley’s Wife are cruel. Lady Macbeth has to organise her husband Macbeth but whilst being quit cruel “Are you a man” which suggests that Macbeth keeps on having to look up at her like she is his mother but she is harsh with him and knows everything and everyone. So when Macbeth needs help Lady Macbeth treats him as her son this is shown by Lady Macbeth saying “Sit worthy friends my lord is like this and has been since his youth” and again suggests that Macbeth has been looked down on since he was born. Lady Macbeth is also shown as mother “How tender ‘tis to love the babe that milks me I would, while it was smiling in my face, have pluck’d it from my nipple from his boneless gums, and dash’d the brains out, had I so sworn as you have done to this.” Which also says she does not like Macbeth she just likes the royalty. Curley’s wife goes around the ranch trying to find another man that is better than Curley because “Curley ain’t a nice fella.” But because of this she is treating some people nastily “Do it and I’ll get you canned” which suggests she is using her authority to get the ranch workers to do something or she threatens them with being “canned”. Both women use their positions in marriage to their advantage by being horrible and getting away with it because they are the bosses wives.

Both Lady Macbeth and Curley’s Wife are villains. Curley’s wife is portrayed as villain because of when the novel is set which is in the 1930’s. At this time in America it was very racist and sexist. So the order of society was high class men then high class women then the elderly of both genders then middle class men then middle class women then working class men then working class women then black women then finally at the bottom of the pile was black men. So the only person that Curley’s wife has priority over is the working class and the black people of society. So she is portrayed as being villain and a racist “Listen, Nigger” which suggests that she is annoyed with what he has done whilst pointing out his colour in a derogatory way but if she was annoyed with Curley she wouldn’t say it in front of Curley because she is worried she would be beaten so says it behind Curley’s back “Curley ain’t a nice fella” which is a current theme throughout the book, and now is reminding “crooks” that she has more authority than him whilst she is having fun doing so, because she is restoring her confidence. Lady Macbeth is a villain in a more straightforward way which is killing Duncan “Awake, Awake! Ring the alarm-bell. Murder and treason!” This suggests Lady Macbeth is a villain that would like to be on the thrown which could send the whole country to a reckless end. Thus both lady Macbeth and Curley’s wife are villains but lady Macbeth is ruthless villain that is portrayed in a more stereotypical way whereas Curley’s wife is a villain because she has more authority than crooks whilst she is having fun doing so, because she is restoring her confidence but in a very racist and less up front way but with her confidence slowly coming back.

The two characters are both portrayed as victims some way through the novel and play that they are seen in. Lady Macbeth is portrayed as a victim because she has nightmares and tries to wash the blood from her hands “Out, out damned spot out I say”. By the end of her life, guilt has replaced her amazing ambition which is to be equal to her husband and all the other royals. Which leads her to suicide. Lady Macbeth is therefore a victim of her own ambition – and also possibly of her sex. As a woman she cannot deal with such strong emotions. Curley’s wife is seen as victim in a more obvious way where she is accused for talking to “slim” “it seems like she can’t stay away from the men” which suggests that she does not like Curley and she dis portrayed as victim in her last moments where she dies because she was trying to impress Lennie. Thus Lady Macbeth is a victim of guilt whereas Curley’s wife is a victim of physical abuse from Curley.

Both women characters are temptresses. Curley’s wife is a temptress in a very open way in how she acts around men working at the ranch which is picked up on by them all we know this because the all call her “jailbait” which suggests she could lure them into a trap or that she will get them put into prison because she is so young. Lady Macbeth is also a temptress because she thinks if all the royal lords like her she is equal to them which is her ambition “Help me hence ho” which she uses to make an even bigger impact on the lords of the dinner party using alliteration in the harsh way using the letter H. Using the letter H repeatedly creates a harsh, empty, hollo and lonely noise which gives the impression to the lords that she is free for them. Thus both women are seeking attention from other men rather than their husbands but for different reasons lady Macbeth’s reason is to try and rule the country and Curley’s wife reason is that she has seen too much physical abuse and not enough romance apart from the glove full of Vaseline for his wife.

The two characters of the play and novel have an ambition. Lady Macbeth's ambition is to become queen with husband Macbeth as King. She has spoken off that ambition, whilst reading the letter from her husband about the predictions of the three witches. She then realized that her ambition when she thought about killing King Duncan. She let Macbeth know that there was no backing down and no retreating from anything other than the king's death at her husband's hands. Curley’s wife’s ambition is to be an actress. Before marrying Curley she met a man at the local dance palace who told her she could get into the pictures. The man says he will write to her when he gets back to Hollywood. The letter never came so she thought her mother had taken the letter and kept it from her. That same night she meets Curley at the dance palace and marries him, in effect, to get away from her mother. But realised she really wanted to be an actress so is trying to find a man that wants to get out the ranch and wants to be with her forever. Thus they both want to be higher and equal to their partners but Curley’s wife isn’t as high powered. Lady Macbeth wants to be a ruler of an all mighty empire which means she would be travelling around the world at the time of Jacobean England to see all the other countries she would be running.

Both of the frequently described characters recognised flaws in their relationship between them and their husbands. Lady Macbeth see flaws in Macbeth such as his lack of machoism on killing Duncan which most people can see but not lady Macbeth so she says “are you a man” throughout the play which drives Macbeth to insanity and his belief in the witches apparitions and riddles that can fool anyone which ends up being the end of his life. Whereas Curley’s wife sees flaws in their relationship between her and Curley such as his machoism in trying to fight Lennie who is three times the size of him “you bust Curley’s hand” which suggests that his flaws lead to an amputation so before long he wouldn’t be a man. Thus both the females’ characters have problems with their partners’ machoism but Macbeth having lack of it and Curley being too confident with himself. Leading to amputation but Macbeth’s coming of worse with his death. But in both pieces of literature the weaker character ends up dead.  

Thus in conclusion both Lady Macbeth and Curley’s wife show very strong continuity throughout their characters portrayed as the same outline and in wanting the same thing but to be equal to their husbands for example they both had ambition of getting higher in society but Lady Macbeth was born and bred in the noble class so she wanted to rule the empire but ended up dead “The queen, my lord, is dead.” Where Curley’s wife was born in high working class and wanted to be actress “And when they were gone, Candy squatted down in the hay and watched the face of Curley's wife. “Poor bastard," he said softly.”Not "poor girl," but "poor bastard." We get the feeling that Candy knows who the real victim is here: not Curley's wife, who he thinks brought it on herself, but poor, dumb, innocent Lennie. Too which neither succeeded.

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