When we first hear about Curley's wife in the story we hear from Candy that she is "a tart." Whit then tells George that he should stick around to meet Curley's wife because when he does he will "see plenty" because "she ain't concealin' nothin'." Whit also says that she...
When we first hear about Curley's wife in the story we hear from Candy that she is "a tart." Whit then tells George that he should stick around to meet Curley's wife because when he does he will "see plenty" because "she ain't concealin' nothin'." Whit also says that she has "the eye goin' all the time on everybody." George then says that Curley's wife is "a jail bait all set on the trigger." These are all very negative descriptions. Our opinions of the character are formed before we even meet her. We are led to believe that she is flirtatious, promiscuous, and dangerous. This reflects how women of this era were often defined, from a male perspective, by their physicality and sexuality.
When we first see Curley's wife, she is described as having "full, rouged lips" and as being "heavily made up." Her fingernails are "red," and she wears "red mules on her feet," on the insteps of which she has "little bouquets of red ostrich feathers." The predominance of red in this description of Curley's Wife, in combination with the sustained description of her physical appearance, suggests once more that she is a character defined by her physicality. The color "red" even suggests that this physicality is dangerous, or at least is perceived to be by the men on the ranch. This impression i s compounded when Curley's Wife leans "against the doorframe so that her body [is] thrown forward."
Curley's wife uses her physicality throughout the story to flirt with the men on the ranch. At first, it might be easy to criticize her for this and to disregard her as meddlesome and deliberately provocative. However, this would be to miss the point. The point is that Curley's wife, as a woman brought up in the first decades of the twentieth century, has been conditioned to believe that the only way she can make an impression is by using her physicality and sexuality. This idea is put very well by Steinbeck in a letter he wrote to an actress who was playing the part of Curley's wife in a stage adaptation of the story.
In this letter (see the link below), Steinbeck writes of Curley's wife that "no man has ever considered her as anything except a girl to try to make." He also writes that she "knows instinctively that if she is to be noticed at all, it will be because some one finds her sexually desirable." This point (that women are diminished and conditioned by the sexist, misogynistic attitudes of a patriarchal society) is the point that Steinbeck tries to convey through the character of Curley's wife.