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Curley’s wife is in a difficult position in the novel. She is the only woman there, and is married to a man who is jealous on the one hand, and ignores her on the other. The men know to stay away from her unless they want trouble from Curley, so most of them ignore her, with the exception of Slim, who treats everyone well.
The first time we meet Curley’s wife is a good example of how she is discriminated against. She comes in looking for Curley, and George immediately dislikes her. He is rude to her, and once she leaves, he expresses his opinion of her in no uncertain terms.
“George looked around at Lennie.”Jesus, what a tramp," he said. "So that's what Curley picks for a wife." "She's purty," said Lennie defensively. ‘Yeah, and she's sure hidin' it. Curley got his work ahead of him. Bet she'd clear out for twenty bucks.’"(Chapter 2).
The impression the reader is left with is that Curley’s wife is a tramp who doesn’t really care about Curley.
In Chapter 3, we again see evidence that the men have made up their minds about Curley’s wife, and they have no intention of seeing her as anything but a tramp with a wandering eye.
“Whit laid down his cards impressively. "Well, stick around an' keep your eyes open. You'll see plenty. She ain't concealin' nothing. I never seen nobody like her. She got the eye goin' all the time on everybody. I bet she even gives the stable buck the eye. I don't know what the hell she wants.”
Whit is clearly implying that Curley’s wife wants to be more than friendly with one of the men.
Curley’s jealousy is what keeps the men away from Curley’s wife, and in turn, leaves her very lonely and seeking attention. When Curley is looking for his wife, he is spoiling for a fight.
“Slim said, "Well, you been askin' me too often. I'm gettin' God damn sick of it. If you can't look after your own God damn wife, what you expect me to do about it? You lay offa me." "I'm jus' tryin' to tell you I didn't mean nothing," said Curley. "I jus' thought you might of saw her." "Why'n't you tell her to stay the hell home where she belongs?" said Carlson. "You let her hang around bunkhouses and pretty soon you're gonna have som'pin on your hands and you won't be able to do nothing about it.’ “(Chapter 3).
The men must discriminate against Curley’s wife or fight with Curley.
In Chapter Four, most of the men are gone, and Candy, Lennie, and Crooks are in the stable buck’s room. Curley’s wife enters, heavily made up, looking for Curley. The men are instantly suspicious and resentful of her.
“ ‘I might of knew," he said gently. "Maybe you just better go along an' roll your hoop. We ain't got nothing to say to you at all. We know what we got, and we don't care whether you know it or not. So maybe you better jus' scatter along now, 'cause Curley maybe ain't gonna like his wife out in the barn with us 'bindle stiffs.'" She looked from one face to another, and they were all closed against her. “
Curley’s wife wants attention, and it does not matter to her how she gets that attention. She is lonely and starved for companionship. Not only does this cause the men to discriminate against her, but it also leads to her death.
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