How Does Steinbeck Present Curley's Wife

How does Steinbeck present Curley's wife in the novel, Of Mice and Men?


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e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Curley's wife is presented in three ways in the novel. She is an object of fear, danger and apprehension. She is a powerless person, belonging with the others in this category. She is also a dreamer, incapable of grasping her dream.

Curley's wife is never given a name. She remains "Curley's wife" throughout the book. This fact helps to render her character as an object - a person to be feared from a distance. George repeatedly warns Lennie to keep away from Curley's wife and the other men talk about her in ways that are consistent with the idea that the "tart" poses a danger to the men of the ranch. 

Despite the threat that she represents (an aspect of which she articulates in the scene that takes place in Crooks' room), Curley's wife belongs to the powerless and dispossessed group that gathers in Crooks' room. Like Candy, Crooks and Lennie, Curley's wife has very little potency in her world. She is controlled by her husband, feared by the ranch hands, and isolated as the only woman on the ranch. 

Before being killed, Curley's wife admits to Lennie that she has always dreamed of getting into the movies. She dreams of a different life and laments her isolation. She is presented here, not as an object, but as a subject. Here, she speaks for herself (where earlier she is spoken about). She is a person with honest feelings and disappointments and a desperation of her own. 

Some sympathy is due to her in this final presentation, which was not true in her two earlier iterations.

In these three ways, we come to see Curley's wife as a full-fledged member of the powerless class of individuals that populate the ranch. She is more alike to Crooks, Candy and Lennie than she is different. 


gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Curley's wife is portrayed as an unhappy, lonely woman married to an aggressive, overprotective husband. Curley's wife is the only woman on the ranch and is identified as her husband's possession. She is also depicted as an attractive woman who enjoys flirting with the workers on the farm. Throughout the novella, Curley is continually looking for his wife and is worried that she is sleeping with the workers, which is why they refer to her as a "tart" and "jailbait." Despite the fact that she is physically attractive, the men purposely avoid Curley's wife because they do not want to lose their jobs.

When Curley's wife enters Crooks's room in chapter 4, she reveals her malicious nature by ridiculing Candy's dream of owning property and threatening to have Crooks killed. She tells Crooks,

Well, you keep your place then, Nigger. I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain't even funny (Steinbeck 39).

Later on in the novella, Curley's wife shares an intimate moment with Lennie and reveals her lost opportunity to be in the movies. She tells Lennie,

'Nother time I met a guy, an' he was in pitchers. Went out to the Riverside Dance Palace with him. He says he was gonna put me in the movies. Says I was a natural. Soon's he got back to Hollywood he was gonna write to me about it...I never got that letter (Steinbeck 44).

The audience sympathizes with Curley's wife just before Lennie accidentally breaks her neck while petting her hair. Similar to all the workers on the ranch, Curley's wife misses out on her dreams and suffers through a difficult life.