What is the significance of the language Steinbeck uses to describe Curley's wife?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When Steinbeck describes Curley's wife in Of Mice and Men, the language he uses communicates beauty.

In Chapter 2, George and Lennie get their first view of Curley's wife. These initial descriptions accentuate her physical beauty. Both men see her "standing there looking in" with "full rouged lips and widespread eyes."  Her external beauty is enhanced with a face that is "heavily made up." Steinbeck describes her the beauty of her hair as "little rolled clusters, like sausages." Finally, her dress is not subdued. Rather, it features red in the mules and "bouquets" of feathers that adorn it. When we see Curley's wife in this light, it is one that emphasizes her physical beauty.

After Lennie kills Curley's wife, the language that Steinbeck uses to describe her beauty is more emotional. It is almost as if death has given her a deeper beauty.  As her body lies on the ground of the barn in chapter 5, Steinbeck conveys her "pretty and simple" beauty.  She is no longer made up with cosmetics, but is rather "sweet and young."  She was "alive and sleeping very lightly" even though she had died. 

In both settings, Steinbeck uses language to communicate the beauty that is within Curley's wife.  The beauty evident in Chapter 2 is highly physical and conveyed through language that shows an appearance that has a direct impact upon men.  In chapter 5, the beauty of which Steinbeck writes is more internal and almost spiritual, giving Curley's wife a significant grace that she had sought throughout her life and could only achieve in death.