In Of Mice and Men, what image has Steinbeck created of Curley's wife?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that the question might be more effective in discussing how Steinbeck presents different images of Curley's wife.  This helps to illuminate how human beings can represent different aspects to their being.  The first images we get of Curley's wife when Lennie and George first see her is one of a vamp, a woman who uses her own "sexing up" conception to her own benefit.  Another image seen of Curley's wife is one of outright cruelty.  The way in which she verbally abuses Candy and Crooks is one filled with venom and a sense of wrath.  The images of a cruel vamp would be offset with one of a painful denial of dreams when she talks to Lennie about the pain in her life and how she wishes she could have been in "pitchers."  This image, brought out in her conversation with Lennie, is a poignant one, an image that enables the reader to see another side to Curley's wife.  This is representative of the novel, in general.  George has to do things in the novel where different personas are revealed, while Lennie is shown to possess different aspects of his personality.  In much the same way, Steinbeck creates many different situations where multiple images of Curley's wife are revealed.

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The image of Curley's wife is largely a creation of the impressions the reader is given from the men. On a literal level if the reader accepts the depiction by the men, she is a "tart", she's got "the eye", and she's a "trap". All of these literal depictions point to the impression that she is out to cause trouble for the men. Ultimately she does cause trouble for the men as well as making a fatal mistake as her own undoing.

To look deeper into the complexities of Curley's wife one can see that Steinbeck is creating a much richer character than is initially portrayed.

Steinbeck's notable lack of giving a name to Curley's wife depicts that she is not worthy of a name or that she is just like all women-- a sinner like Eve in the Bible who tempts men down the wrong path. By not giving her a name, it sends the message that this is a depiction of all women a female version of "Everyman".

By the end of the novel, the reader can develop some sense of sympathy with the woman who is the cause of Lennie's downfall and fulfills the role of the dream destroyer. She hoped that marriage to a man she didn't love would rescue her from her unfulfilled life with unfulfilled dreams. Her husband repeatedly treats her like a possession and not a person worthy of a name. In fact Curley's wife means more to him in death than she ever did in life. She is a trophy wife and Curley loses his trophy with her death.

At the same time she is insightful and intelligent. She knows there is a connection to Lennie's bruised face and Curley's broken hand. While she is left behind while the men go to town as one of the weak ones, even among the weak, she has power. She wields her power over Crooks when she threatens that she could get him lynched.

When you look at the character as a whole, she appears to be a woman searching for love. She didn't feel she received it at home from her family, she didn't receive love from Curley, and she is seeking attention from anyone on the ranch who will talk to her because she is lonely. She becomes a tragic figure in the novel, a victim of her environment due to a lack of love and being treated like a temptress in the Garden of Eden who causes men to sin.