How does Curley's wife in Of Mice and Men reflect the situation for women during The Great Depression in 1930's America?

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kcoleman2016 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men tackles many social and cultural issues. One of the most fascinating analyses he performs is gender in society, depicted through Curley's wife. 

In the 1930s, women still lacked many basic rights and privileges afforded to their male counterparts; this invariably applied across racial and socioeconomic lines. Most obviously, Steinbeck never names Curley's wife. She is simply classified as an object, "wife", which is possessed, "belonging to Curley". This simple dehumanization achieves a great deal of depth in Steinbeck's commentary on gender roles in the 1930s. 

In her actions, Curley's wife reveals a desperation and sadness of an individual denied agency and freedom. An object, she is not allowed to make decisions about who she interacts with, where she goes, or what she does. What little power she has is relegated to that which her possessor deems valuable: her sexuality. As such, she perceives and uses this sexuality as a tool and a weapon -- it is her sole source of power. Again, this links directly to the role of women in society during the 1930s, who were limited to very specific means of social interaction, agency, and recognition. 

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Of Mice and Men

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