Explore the way Steinbeck presents Curley's wife in Of Mice and Men.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Steinbeck presents Curley's wife in a complex manner over the course of the novella, Of Mice and Men.

Curley’s wife is defined in the early part of the book as simply looking for Curley.  In Chapter 2,  her sexuality captures Lennie's attention. Steinbeck uses this as part of her character, especially evident in the way she seeks to hold the mens' attention on the ranch.  In chapters 4 and 5, Steinbeck develops depth to Curley's wife.  In the absence of any substantial happiness, she is driven by the need to be noticed. It is almost as if her desire to be noticed by someone, anyone, will make up for the gaping misery that is her life.  

Curley's wife acquires depth when we see how unhappy she really is.  Her life on the ranch is the source of her misery. In her last moments in chapter 5, it becomes clear that as a teenager, she hoped to be in “pitchers" and believes that she can still “make something” of herself.  In the hopes of feeling validated, she confides in Lennie and when she shows him how soft her hair is, offering it to his touch, her neck is broken.

Steinbeck's exploration of Curley's wife reaches its most powerful as he describes her dead body.  While the actual death takes place very quickly, Steinbeck strikes a distinct note of reflection in his writing style. He uses images of nature to communicate the passing of life. Details such as “The sun streaks were high on the wall by now, and the light was growing soft” are complemented with “the air was dusky.”  These details show how Curley’s wife, one who sought to stand out so much, has blended into the natural setting. This is enhanced with the description with the dead body.  Steinbeck talks about how her natural beauty was amplified because “all the meanness and all the plannings and the discontent and the ache for attention were all gone from her face.”  Death is shown to be the ultimate equalizer, a force that reduces all life’s clamoring.  In doing so, Steinbeck's exploration of Curley's wife transforms her in death to something more than she could have ever been in life.