What is the significance of how Lennie sees Curley's wife?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

On the most surface level, Lennie sees Curley's wife sees her as "purty."  Lennie is entranced with her beauty.  Steinbeck enhances this with his description of her as how Lennie sees her in the moment where they are together.  The "tight sausage curls" as well as her made up face are examples of how Lennie sees her as something "purty."  Something noticeable is that Lennie is entranced by her beauty, and wishes to hold it in his own hands.  It is here where a theme seems to re-emerge in terms of how Lennie's own embrace of beauty ends up killing it.  This is seen in how he treats the animals, lovingly and caring, but still it is one of death. It is also representative of what happened in Weed, when he came too close to a girl only to scare her and be run off with George.  In this light, the significance of how Lennie sees Curley's wife is that it is a continuation of this pattern.  When Lennie goes to touch her hair, he does so with such a tender embrace that ends up being so destructive in his big hands that the slippery slope quickly moves from Lennie's embrace of beauty and his penchant for killing it.  In this, the significance of how Lennie sees Curley's wife is another way to heighten how, while Lennie has no malevolent intent, he is incapable of appreciating beauty in his own destructive hands.