Steinbecks use of language in 'Of Mice and Men'What kind of language does Steinbeck use the describe curleys wife

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mstultz72 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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In the novella Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck refuses to give Curley's Wife a name; she is, by default, simply "Curley's Wife."  This shows that she is his possession, a trophy wife, without any vocation, rights, or any real identity, trapped on the ranch as a play toy.  Curley says he's keeping his hand in a glove of vaseline, soft for his wife--which is to say that she is something to be petted and touched at night after the work is done.  As the only female on the ranch, Curley's Wife is very much much like Lennie, Candy, and Crooks, one of the "weak ones," low on the social ladder.  Unlike them, she cannot so much as work.  All this is to say that Steinbeck, characterizing her the way a typical male would, is implicitly calling attention to the way women are victimized in the 1930s American agrarian culture.  Truly, it was a "man's world."

Steinbeck does not so much describe her himself; rather, he lets his characters describe her before we meet her.  The men in the bunkhouse describe Curley's Wife using sexist and demeaning remarks:


"Purty"...""Well- she got the eye."..."Married two weeks and got the eye?"..."I seen her give Slim the eye. ...An' I seen her give Carlson the eye."..."Well, I think Curley's married... a tart."

This shows that the men think she is not to be trusted, a flirt.  Especially in marriage, women were held to impossible double-standards.  They could not so much as talk to other men.

Later, Steinbeck does say that her face was "heavily made up," which means she was wearing a lot of make-up.  This serves as a kind of mask, a way to project what men expect her to look like.  Really, she is a lonely and unhappy prisoner who once had dreams of starring in the movies.