What is the importance of Curley's wife in the novel Of Mice and Men?

Expert Answers

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

It is important to understand that Steinbeck doesn't give the character of Curley's Wife a first name.  She is the catalyst in the story that begins the inciting incident. 

We are given the information at the onset that George and Lennie had to leave Weed in a hurry because Lennie scared a woman by touching her too roughly.  Once we meet Curley's wife, we know through foreshadowing that the events to come will involve her, because of her beauty and the way that she treats the two men.  She likes George and he tells Lennie to stay away from her because she is trouble.  Lennie tries to avoid her, but she is lonely and she wants someone to talk to her.  When she finds Lennie alone in the barn, she is the catalyst that leads to the peak of the action of the story.

In addition, Curley's wife is another victim in the story.  She is not accepted because the farmhands know that if Curley sees them talking to her, they will be fired.  Curley wears a glove on one hand that he keeps soft for his wife, while on the other hand, he physically and mentally abuses her.  She wants out because she doesn't like her husband, she thinks that he is a bad man.  She unwittingly leads Lennie to his death.

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

In the novel, Of Mice and Men, Curley’s wife represents many things.  She represents the role of women during the time period.  Women were considered to be property and trophies.  This idea is stressed in the fact that she was referred to as Curley’s wife, and did not even warrant a name throughout the novel.  Curley’s reaction to her death at the end of the novel also stresses the fact that women were property.  He was upset with her death, not because he loved her, but because it was a loss to his social status.  He avenged her death like a farmer would for a stolen piece of cattle.  Curley’s wife also represents the theme of loneliness.  She is the only female on the ranch and she is secluded.  She flirts with the other ranch hands because her beauty is all she has to attract attention from others.  Her marriage to Curley is a typical one in the fact that it was a financial decision versus one of love.  Steinbeck’s story takes place during The Great Depression and all of his characters represent a particular facet of life during that era.  Years can be spent discussing all the things represented by the character of Curley’s wife.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

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