Completely alienated from everyone by her marriage to the son of the boss and her gender, Curley's wife poses a threat to the fraternity of the men bindle as a temptress and interloper. Just as the men have begun to establish some camaraderie in the barn, she appears. Then, in Chapter 5 as Lennie sits in a pile of hay near the end of the barn with the puppy that he has inadvertently killed. As he bemoans his situation, Curley's wife enters and insists upon talking with him. When she allows him to stroke her hair, Lennie pets it too hard and she panics as he refuses to release her, inadvertently breaking her neck.
Lennie hides the puppy inside his coat, and repeating to himself George's instructions to hide in the brush, he sneaks away. Now, there is a stillness in the barn.
A pigeon flew in through the open hay door and circled and flew out again. Around the last stall came a shepherd bitch....Halway to the packing box where the puppies were she caught the dead scent of Curley's wife and the hair rose along her spine. She whimpered and cringed to the packing box, and jumped in among her puppies.
Further, Steinbeck writes that like the pigeon and the dog,
a moment settled and hovered and remained for much more than a moment.
All time seems suspended as there is no movement and it is quiet outside where the men have been playing horseshoes. In this moment of dead quiet, life is suspended and the stillness of death "hovers" in the barn. The limp body of Curley's wife lies half-covered in the yellow hay--a color symbolic of unnaturalness, evil, or death.
This suspension of time with the reaction of the pigeon and mother dog creates an eerie tension, much like the unnatural calm before a tornado or severe storm. Then, when Candy comes in and discovers Curley's wife, believing her to be asleep, he chides her. But, when he realizes she is dead, it is as though one discovers it is too late to flee the storm. Yet, he tries as he jumps up and quickly leaves the barn.