How does Curley's wife gain,use, abuse or lose power in the novel Of Mice and Men?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The manner in which Curley's wife exerts control over the men in John Steinbeck's novel Of Mice and Men is by using her studied mannerisms in a way that it would entice the men to, at least, pay attention to her.Furthermore, she uses her gender, which at the time is meant to be weak and feeble, to make the men feel obligated to be condescending and somewhat respectful of her in her presence (certainly not when she is not there). Moreover, she uses her situation as the boss's wife as a tool of power, as she knows that the men fear to lose their jobs. Therefore, we can agree that Curley's wife combines femininity, sex appeal, and her husband's power as tools to secure and maintain the attention of the field hands.

Curley's wife is a woman who marries too young to a man who disappoints her greatly. As a younger woman, she still has hopes and dreams. Her particular dreams have to do with being in the limelight as a showgirl. We know that she actually comes close, at some point in her life, to achieve this dream. However, she chooses to marry and her life changes from being a potential showgirl to being a Rancher's wife.

She is obviously still holding on to her dreams, as we witness her actions in the novel, because she is always overdressed and heavily made-up at all times. She also develops a particular way of behaving among the men that clearly points to her need to be looked at, and admired. She is sensual and uses her body to get attention.

Although she is aware that her presence among the field hands is as inappropriate as it is unnecessary, he still allows herself to wander about the men's barracks to make the situation awkward enough for the men to have no choice but to listen to her and admit her in their presence.

The men, being as uneducated and unsophisticated as they are, cannot bring themselves to shun her directly because she is not only a woman, but also the wife of the boss. Hence, they really are trapped by her with no way out.

Concisely, Curley's wife seeks attention and actively goes for it by prepping herself enough to be looked at, by acting sensually enough to be heard, and by causing enough tension in the air to remind the men that she holds a lot of power over them. It is a combination of feminine traits, sexual attraction, and power that keeps her close enough to the men to be personally satisfied.