How does Steinbeck present how women were treated at the time of the Great Depression in Of Mice and Men? 

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mrsdutko eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Steinbeck uses the character of Curley's wife to clearly depict how he viewed women during this time period. It was a difficult time, for both men as well as women. Dreams were in abundance, but money and jobs were not. While Lennie and George are able to use their physical abilities to find jobs at local ranches as migrant workers, Curley's wife uses her body to hook Curley. She's described as being attractive and dressing to garner attention. This causes her to be labeled as a "tart" by Candy and the other men. They make fun of Curley's behavior as a newly married man, suggesting that he's wearing a glove to please her. She's a flirt, no question about it, but she is also incredibly lonely. 

Later on, Curley's wife also describes her dreams about how she could have made it in Hollywood, but missed out because of her mother. 

"I lived right in Salinas," she said. "Come there when I was a kid. Well, a show come through, an' I met one of the actors. He says I could go with that show. But my ol' lady wouldn' let me. She says because I was on'y fifteen. But the guy says I coulda. If I'd went, I wouldn't be livin' like this, you bet." 

This highlights how lonely she really is. She is married to Curley and thought that it would be a different life than she actually has. Her hopes have been crushed, just like the dreams of many of the men on the ranch. 

Steinbeck isn't really sympathetic to Curley's wife, however. He doesn't give her a name, reducing her to physical attributes, and only softens his treatment and judgement of her in death. Lennie accidentally kills Curley's wife in the same manner as he has killed both the pup and the mice that he has handled. She becomes the instrument of Lennie's demise and the end to George's dreams for his future.