In Of Mice and Men, what evidence points to the ranch hands's finding  Curley's wife attractive?

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, within the fraternity of men as a solution to the alienation and powerlessness of the individual man, Curley's wife--the only woman in the novella--is the temptress, the Eve, that interferes in this unification of the men. When she first appears in the narrative, her likeness to the seductress in the doorway of the bunkhouse is apparent:

....She had full, rouged lips and wide-spaced eyes, heavily made up.  Her fingernails were red.  Her hair ung in little rolled clusters....She wore a cotton house dress and red mules, on the insteps of which wer little bouquets of red ostrich feathers....She put her hands behind her back and leaned against the door frame so that her body was thrown forward....

As she notices that Lennie is "fascinated" with her, Curley's wife "smiled archly and twitched her body."  Of course, after she departs, George scolds Lennie to leave her alone because, he says, "I never seen no piece of jail bait worse than her."  Lennie complains that he has not done anything, but George retorts,

"No, you never. But when she was standin' in the doorway showin' her legs, you wasn't lookin' the other way, neither."

Another bindle stiff underscores George's assessment of Curley's wife when George inquires if there has been any trouble on the ranch since her arrival, saying "I see what you mean." Whit explains that whenever the men are around, she appears on the pretext of looking for Curley or something she has lost:

"Seems like she can't keep away from guys.  An' Curley's pants is just crawlin' with ants, but they ain't nothing come of it yet."

Nevertheless, George is convinced that she is

"gonna make a mess...She's a jail bait all set on the trigger....Ranch with a bunch of guys on it ain't no place for a girl, specially like her."

That she is aware of her seductive and social powers is later evinced in her coming to the barn where Lennie talks with Crooks.  When Candy tells her to go back to her house and stop "causin' trouble," Curley's wife becomes sinister and exerts her racial power over Crooks, marginalizing him from the fraternity of the others.  Finally, this temptress, this Eve, destroys the dream of the Eden-like farm where the men can live out their days happily as she talks with Lennie, watching "to see whether she was impressing him."  When she invites him to touch her "soft and fine" hair, the temptation is too much for Lennie to resist. His Samson-like strength causes her injury when she struggles under his grip over her to keep her quiet when she screams.

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eyeofhorus's profile pic

eyeofhorus | College Teacher | (Level 1) eNoter

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Indeed, the men on the ranch find Curley's wife attractive and many remark upon her looks. When George and Lennie first meet Candy, George enquires about her and Candy admits, "Yeah, purty but - " and then he adds a negative opinion that "she's got the eye."

Lennie also remarks: "She's purty" once she has left the bunkhouse after claiming to be "lookin' for Curley."

Given that Curley's wife is the only woman on the ranch and the solitary lifestyle of itinerant ranch hands, the presence of a youthful woman who Slim refers to as "good lookin'" is bound to draw the attention of heterosexual men whose only sexual release is in town on a Saturday night in the company of a prostitute.

When Curley suspects that Slim is in the barn with his wife, the men dash off - hoping either to witness a fight or Curley's wife in a state of undress as Carlson remarks: "I might just go and look her over."

The tragic irony is that the men are afraid to engage Curley's wife in conversation because jobs were scarce and Curley is paranoid; Steinbeck refers to Curley's wife's "ache for attention" when describing her lifeless body in the hay in Chapter 5. In death, ironically, Curley's wife draws the attention of all the men.

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