Steinbeck's portrayal of women in Of Mice and Men is hardly complimentary, and his purpose in being so derogatory has been debated by many critics. What is his portrayal of women in the novel and what is his purpose? Is he a misogynist? Or is he portraying the plight of women in a sexist society?

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Although there is no way to know an author's intent for certain, I would argue that Steinbeck is trying to portray women as victims in this society.  Here is why:

In this book, lots of people are victims and all of them have flaws.  You do not see the victims...

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Although there is no way to know an author's intent for certain, I would argue that Steinbeck is trying to portray women as victims in this society.  Here is why:

In this book, lots of people are victims and all of them have flaws.  You do not see the victims being perfect.  Lennie and George are victims and they have flaws.  Crooks is the same.

The reason I point this out is that Curley's wife is seriously flawed.  She is not a nice person in many ways.  But I think she can still be a victim.  I think that she is the way she is because of the way that Curley treats her.

So she is like the other victims -- she has been hurt in important ways by society.

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In the novel "Of Mice And Men" by John Steinbeck, Curley's wife finds herself in a powerless situation due not only to her gender, but also to her poverty. We find that she once had dreams but was powerless to pursue them, like George and Lennie (and all the other hands on the ranch and in the Great Depression generally.) Her position as a woman certainly does not improve her lot - many women were simply appendages to men at that time, moving through from doing chores for father, brother and then straight on to husband and sons. in many ways, impoverished and destitute women of the American Depression would have seen her lot as a soft one as it entailed financial security, but we see her needs are not being met - she is lonely, unloved, undervalued and most of all - bored.

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In Of Mice and Men, here's the social hierarchy in the novella:

1.  The Boss

2.  The Boss' son, Curley

3.  Slim

4.  The white workers: George, Candy, Lennie

5.  Curley's wife

6.  Crooks

Notice that there is only one woman.  Notice that all of the men are named, but not the woman.  Notice an old crippled man, Candy, is higher in status than the woman.  Notice that Lennie, a mentally-challenged man, is higher in status than the woman.  Notice that a crippled black man, who may be lower in status, is at least named.  Notice that these bottom four are all crippled, the men physically, and the woman--well, only because of her gender.

Such characterization is Steinbeck's attempt to show the inherent sexism, hypocrisies, and double-standards in the predominantly male workplace.  There, women are completely disenfranchised: of dreams, of friends, of family, of community, even of name.

In the end, Curley's wife becomes like an animal in Lennie's hands, for women were considered play-things and pets.  Curley does not even mourn his wife's death.  He is only focused on revenge, a typically male response.

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