What quotes reveal Curley's power in Of Mice and Men?

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The primary antagonist of Of Mice and Men is, of course, the crippling poverty of the depression era. However, Curly is about as close as you'll come to finding a human antagonist. He is cruel and belligerent, and it is implied that his status as the boss's son gives him...

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The primary antagonist of Of Mice and Men is, of course, the crippling poverty of the depression era. However, Curly is about as close as you'll come to finding a human antagonist. He is cruel and belligerent, and it is implied that his status as the boss's son gives him power beyond his physical prowess. Though he often boasts about his past as a boxer, the men seem far more fearful of Curly's ability to compromise their jobs than they do of a physical confrontation with him. Curly's wife says that he:

Spends all his time sayin' what he's gonna do to guys he don't like, and he don't like nobody.

It comes as no surprise that Curly's workers are not fond of him. Even his wife seems to resent him. This quote tells us that Curly spends all his time and energy making life for those around him unpleasant. Even though his wife is desperate for affection and his father is the boss, he takes no pleasure in the advantages that he has in life, outside of making hateful use of the small circle of power that he commands. His only joy in the world is feeling power over other people, and he frequently bullies and berates them to keep them in line. As he says to Lennie:

Well, nex' time you answer when you're spoken to.

Curly feels as though by being silent, Lennie is disrespecting him. Perhaps Curly feels vaguely threatened by Lennie because, even though Curly is in the position of power, Lennie could very clearly best him in a physical fight if it came to it. Curly feels the insistent need to dominate Lennie, which leads to the confrontation in which Lennie crushes his hand.

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Curley sat on the floor and stared in wonder at his crushed hand.

This may seem like a strange quotation to use in revealing Curley's power. After all, he's just had his hand crushed by Lennie. But just look closely at the words "Curley...stared in wonder at his crushed hand". The words "in wonder" are key here. Because here's a guy who simply cannot believe what Lennie's just done to him. And the reason for that is that Curley's a self-declared tough guy, an ex-boxer with a nasty streak of aggression inside him.

As well as possessing physical power, he also has considerable power over the other men at the ranch on account of his being the boss' son. That's why he's so shocked that anyone, least of all a common ranch-hand with learning difficulties, would have the audacity to challenge him. Lennie went beyond just challenging him, actually hurting him physically.

Curley's been on top for so long he doesn't quite know to handle his sudden loss of power. Having his hand crushed by Lennie is a completely disorientating as well as a humiliating experience. From now on, the power dynamic on the ranch will change. Though Curley will still be an aggressive little man, he won't be quite as ready to throw his weight around as before.

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Curley is the boss's son and is certainly more powerful than the other men on the ranch. He is also a bully and uses his power to intimidate. He is a former boxer and makes sure all the men know about it by showing them newspaper clippings about when he competed in the Golden Gloves (boxing competition). In chapter two he confronts George and Lennie. When Lennie is quiet, Curley becomes irritated and basically orders him to speak:

Curley stared levelly at him. “Well, nex’ time you answer when you’re spoke to.”

In both chapter two and three Curley wields his power by demanding the men tell them if they have seen his wife. He seems to be forever looking for her. At the end of chapter two he again accosts George, this time almost threatening violence:

“You seen a girl around here?” he demanded angrily.
George said coldly. “’Bout half an hour ago maybe.”
“Well what the hell was she doin’?”
George stood still, watching the angry little man. He said insultingly, “She said—she was lookin’ for you.” 

Curley seemed really to see George for the first time. His eyes flashed over George, took in his height, measured his reach, looked at his trim middle. “Well, which way’d she go?” he demanded at last.

In chapter three, after being insulted by Slim, Carlson and Whit about how he's always looking for his wife, he becomes enraged and picks a fight with Lennie. Lennie is smiling broadly over the dream of the farm which George has just been describing. Curley thinks Lennie is laughing at him and promptly challenges him:

Then Curley’s rage exploded. “Come on, ya big bastard. Get up on your feet. No big son-of-a-bitch is gonna laugh at me. I’ll show ya who’s yella.”

Curley initially beats Lennie badly until George yells for Lennie to fight. As Curley is swinging Lennie catches his hand, crushing it badly. Immediately, because of Curley's power on the ranch, George is concerned that Curley will ask his father to fire them. George asks Slim,

“Slim, will we get canned now? We need the stake. Will Curley’s old man can us now?” 

Slim threatens Curley with telling everyone how he was beaten by Lennie, and for a time this changes Curley. He is not so demonstrative around the men. When his wife is discovered dead, however, he reverts back to his authoritarian way. He says he will kill Lennie and organizes the men for a manhunt: 

Curley came suddenly to life. “I know who done it,” he cried. “That big son-of-a-bitch done it. I know he done it. Why—ever’body else was out there playin’ horseshoes.” He worked himself into a fury. “I’m gonna get him. I’m going for my shotgun. I’ll kill the big son-of-a-bitch myself. I’ll shoot ‘im in the guts. Come on, you guys.” He ran furiously out of the barn. Carlson said, “I’ll get my Luger,” and he ran out too.

The threat of Curley's power to actually go through with hunting down Lennie and killing him in a brutal way leads George to make his fateful decision to kill his friend himself. 

 

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