What is the role of Curley's wife in the novella Of Mice and Men?

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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John Steinbeck evidently wanted to write a novel about a man who is forced to kill his best friend out of compassion. The plot of his short novel Of Mice and Men was carefully worked out. It had to be established that Lennie would do something that would bring the wrath of a mob upon him. He doesn't know his own strength, and he kills little animals without intending to because he handles them too roughly. But he couldn't be hunted by a lynch mob for killing a puppy or a kitten. He had to kill a human, albeit accidentally. Steinbeck revealed that he had been in some kind of trouble involving a young woman just recently up in the town of Weed and that he and George had barely escaped from a mob who thought he had tried to rape her. This foreshadows what will happen when Lennie tries to fondle Curley's wife in the barn. (This may have been innocent enough at first but could have led to rape and even murder.) Curley's wife is portrayed as very young and probably frail, not yet fully developed. This makes it easier to accept that he could kill her accidentally by shaking her. Since she is so young she is flirtatious and reckless; she has never encountered a retarded man like Lennie and doesn't understand that she could be in grave danger. Her main role is to serve as a victim. She is the one doomed to be killed, so that the mob will be aroused against Lennie, so that George will kill him at their river-bank hideaway in order to save him from worse treatment by the mob led by Curley.

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