What does Curley's wife's death symbolize in Of Mice and Men?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The death of Curley's wife could be said to symbolize the ultimate futility of dreams. Like just about everyone on the ranch Curley's wife has her dreams: in her case it's to make it as a movie star. But her dreams end up dashed just like everyone else's, and as with everyone else in the story, her dreams are dashed through no fault of her own. The death of Curley's wife in turn leads to the end of George and Lennie's dream to own a ranch, a dream which also involved Candy.

Despite the United States being in the grip of the Great Depression the national myth of the American Dream still exerted a powerful hold on the public imagination. But in the fate of Curley's wife Steinbeck appears to argue that the American Dream and all it represents holds out a false hope of self-improvement for those who wish to escape their spiritually and materially impoverished lives.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Curley’s wife’s death is a symbol of loss of innocence.

The death of Curley’s wife is a very sad time in indeed. She does nothing wrong, and Lennie kills her accidentally. Her death is therefore a tragedy, and symbolizes the end of Lennie’s carefree life. Although Lennie does not necessarily become a bad person after killing her, we can no longer think of him as a harmless man-child. He proves to be dangerous.

Her death also serves as the end of the innocent part of the story. Although things were not all roses before Curley’s wife dies, George and Lennie were moving along and doing fairly well. Their life was about survival, but centered around the innocent dream of the rabbits. After Curley’s wife is killed, there is no way George and Lennie can exist peacefully and continue their lifestyle. George has to put Lennie out of his misery.


Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial