Describe how Curley's wife is a victim of prejudice.

2 Answers

akannan's profile pic

Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

It is not immediately evident to see that Curley's wife is the victim to prejudice.  She is not even close to the social malignment of Crooks, Candy, or even Lennie.  She is in a position of economic power, for what it is worth, on the ranch in her marriage to Candy.  She is also feared, treated with a combination of fear and respect.  It might be here where her being a victim to prejudice is evident.  She is seen as a "vamp," a woman who is "no good."  George constantly tells Lennie to stay away from her, almost condemning her as one who uses sex to get what she wants and entraps others.  She is seen, to a great extent, as a "gold digger," one who married Curley for his money and one who cheats on him.  At the same time, she is the victim to prejudice because she is not really known by anyone on the farm.  It is easier for the men to capitulate to stereotypes about her, as opposed to getting to know her.  This makes her a victim to prejudice.  I think that Lennie might be the only one who actually makes an attempt to get to know her, breaking through prejudice.  Interestingly enough, this moment is where she dies.

Sources:
andrewnightingale's profile pic

andrewnightingale | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

The fact that Curley's wife does not have a name indicates that she is marginalized and seen as a fringe character, someone not worthy of acknowledgement. She belongs to someone and cannot claim ownership of herself. The circumstances in which she lives does not allow her to do so. She is wholly dependent on Curley to provide for her.

From the outset, the men's remarks and their perception of her mark her as a victim of prejudice. The men, almost without exception, seem to regard her with a combination of suspicion, fear, and resentment. Their attitude exposes a blatant bias towards her, when they, in fact, have no real reason to hold such views. Their approach, one can surmise, is more an expression of their dislike and resentment for Curley which they project onto her. The men hate Curley's arrogance and since she is, unfortunately, attached to him, she also becomes a victim of their disdain.

When George and Lennie first hear about her from Candy, his remarks are not positive at all. He tells them:

"Well, that glove's fulla vaseline."
"Vaseline? What the hell for?"
"Well, I tell ya what—Curley says he's keepin' that hand soft for his wife." 

This clearly shows that Curley sees his wife more as an object for pleasure than a loving partner. The fact that Candy speaks about it with such relish indicates that he, too, has no qualms about this view. It is George, ironically, who sees the whole idea as dirty. Candy tells them that she is 'purty' but that she has 'got the eye,' suggesting that she is a flirt. He states that he has seen her flirt with both Slim and Carlson.

George, who doesn't know Curley's wife, immediately concludes that she is a 'tart.' His statement has no foundation and is only based on what he has just heard. This indicates a clear bias. He has already formed a negative perception of someone he doesn't know and this informs his attitude toward her throughout the novel. 

In their encounter with Curley's wife later, George is brusque and dismissive. After she leaves, he is sarcastic and suggests that Curley has his work cut out for him: managing her. He also intimates that she is a gold digger and would clear out for twenty bucks. This approach emphasizes George's prejudice and he further accentuates this opinion when he tells Lennie, who clearly admires her,

"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 her. You leave her be." 

It becomes evident later that Curley's wife is a victim of his possessiveness. He is continuously looking for her and suspects Slim of having an inappropriate relationship with her. This indicates that he doesn't trust her and, therefore, limits her freedom. She is trapped. It is also apparent that her attempts at interaction stem from her loneliness. She has no one to talk to and confide in. The fact that she dresses up and wears make-up are evidence of the fact that she needs to feel appreciated, something that she does not get from her inconsiderate husband. She obviously likes being looked at.

Her confrontation with the men in Crooks' room later is an expression of her exasperation and when she does go on a power trip by threatening the men, she is reacting to their rejection. In this instance, she uses the little power she has, her race and the fact that she is the wife of the boss's son.

It is tragically ironic that when she does find someone to listen to her in Lennie, who in his own way allows her to vent her frustration and discuss her dreams, it culminates in her death. Further irony lies in the fact that her loneliness and frustration are symbolic of what the ranch hands are experiencing themselves. They do not form any lasting relationships and dream of something better. She, in essence, becomes the object on which they can vent their own frustration for the misery they are going through and that, ultimately, is what also makes her a victim.