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

Expert Answers
abbiesue12 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.

smflannery eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.

lukeswann12 | Student

Curleys wife is an important character in the novel for many reasons.


Number one:  She is often misjudged, the other characters describe her as a 'jail bait'.


Number two: She represents the theme of loneliness in the novel. She is a lonely character, who in some ways, uses her beauty: 'full roughed lips' to attraction on all male farm, where the men to a great extent are deprived of sex. Although, many of the men pay little attention to her, and Curleys 'glove' which he keeps 'for his wife' is symbolic of how little she means to him. Later in the novel, she gains the attention of one man, Lennie, who has a strong physical figure, but a mind of a child, which links to the contrasting title of the novel, 'Of Mice and Men'. Lennie, like Curleys Wife is lonely, and he has his own American Dream of owning a ranch. Towards the end of the novel both of the characters die with what they enjoy most, and have so longed for. Curleys wife dies knowing that someone has eventually listened to her, and gave her the attention shes crys for so deeply; and Lennie dies with the thought of his own American Dream in his mind.


Curley's wife character on the other hand is like her husband. Curley's wife uses her beauty to try to attract attention on the ranch from the men; but she gets little of it. In some ways, her 'full rough lips' and use of make-up show that she is concealing a hidden personality, and that this make-up gives her all of the confidence she has. Similarly, Curley is described as wearing boots to (dont know the quote) higher his status on the ranch. Both characters are very similar here in how they use clothes and appearance to boost their status, and actually get attention.

Many people beleive Curley is a horrible character, but in many ways he is very misunderstood, and his horrid ways maybe the only way to attract attention and respect on the land.