What is Steinbeck's portrayal of women in Of Mice and Men?  Steinbeck's portrayal of women in Of Mice and Men is hardly complimentary, and his putposes in being so derogatory have been debated by...

What is Steinbeck's portrayal of women in Of Mice and Men?


Steinbeck's portrayal of women in Of Mice and Men is hardly complimentary, and his putposes in being so derogatory have been debated by many critics. What is his portrayal of women in the novel and what is his purpose? is he a misogynist(who hates women)? or is he portraying the plight of women in a sexist society?

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mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Of Mice and Men, here's the social hierarchy in the novella:

1.  The Boss

2.  The Boss' son, Curley

3.  Slim

4.  The white workers: George, Candy, Lennie

5.  Curley's wife

6.  Crooks

Notice that there is only one woman.  Notice that all of the men are named, but not the woman.  Notice an old crippled man, Candy, is higher in status than the woman.  Notice that Lennie, a mentally-challenged man, is higher in status than the woman.  Notice that a crippled black man, who may be lower in status, is at least named.  Notice that these bottom four are all crippled, the men physically, and the woman--well, only because of her gender.

Such characterization is Steinbeck's attempt to show the inherent sexism, hypocrisies, and double-standards in the predominantly male workplace.  There, women are completely disenfranchised: of dreams, of friends, of family, of community, even of name.

In the end, Curley's wife becomes like an animal in Lennie's hands, for women were considered play-things and pets.  Curley does not even mourn his wife's death.  He is only focused on revenge, a typically male response.

coachingcorner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the novel "Of Mice And Men" by John Steinbeck, Curley's wife finds herself in a powerless situation due not only to her gender, but also to her poverty. We find that she once had dreams but was powerless to pursue them, like George and Lennie (and all the other hands on the ranch and in the Great Depression generally.) Her position as a woman certainly does not improve her lot - many women were simply appendages to men at that time, moving through from doing chores for father, brother and then straight on to husband and sons. in many ways, impoverished and destitute women of the American Depression would have seen her lot as a soft one as it entailed financial security, but we see her needs are not being met - she is lonely, unloved, undervalued and most of all - bored.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Although there is no way to know an author's intent for certain, I would argue that Steinbeck is trying to portray women as victims in this society.  Here is why:

In this book, lots of people are victims and all of them have flaws.  You do not see the victims being perfect.  Lennie and George are victims and they have flaws.  Crooks is the same.

The reason I point this out is that Curley's wife is seriously flawed.  She is not a nice person in many ways.  But I think she can still be a victim.  I think that she is the way she is because of the way that Curley treats her.

So she is like the other victims -- she has been hurt in important ways by society.

wordist | Student

If authors wrote only about nice women, literature would be bland and uninteresting. It would also be dishonest.

It's the troubled and flawed among us who provide drama, who create problems to solve and issues with which to wrestle. Besides, stories are not intended to be balanced treatises on womanhood or any other issue. They're stories, not essays, and literature is not a parlor.

And yet "misogynist" has been thrown at Steinbeck more than once because he didn't shrink from showing the negative aspects of women rather than idealizing them, as "gentlemen" were trained to do in the day. A careful reading of his work and his correspondence shows he was the opposite of misogynistic. He was exceptionally respectful of women, particularly his mother, despite her domineering posture toward both him and his kind-hearted father. (Both Steinbeck and Hemingway had domineering mothers and passive fathers.) 

Steinbeck wrote what he saw. He was a realist who faced social tabus courageously. He wrote about prostitutes because they were so common in his post-Victorian world, and he wrote about them without the hypocritic harsh judgement and disdain that was also prevalent. THAT would have been misogynistic.

In the character of Ma Joad in THE GRAPES OF WRATH, he showed a character who was stoic, heroic even. In the character of the waitress who sold the loaf of bread at a reduced price, he showed both the woman's hard side and her gentleness. In the case of Rosasharon, he showed a woman who was weak, complaining and male-dependent, but who had hopes for a better future, redeeming herself by offering a starving man milk from her breast. In EAST OF EDEN' Cathy, Steinbeck showed a woman capable of monstrous cruelty, yet not without some kindness toward the sons she abandoned at birth. I have little doubt this woman actually existed. Steinbeck is hated to this day in the social establishment of Salinas and Monterrey for exposing the socially powerful to scrutiny.

Steinbeck had no ax to grind about women. If, as in the case of Curley's wife, he shows a woman's cruelty, it's because it was there and he'd seen it. He simply held up a mirror to society so we could see ourselves objectively.

Nevertheless, people will always read into his work whatever prejudices they, themselves, carry. 

hunkeler04 | Student

he isnt a misogynist. he is delineating women as society viewed them. im writing this essay for my class now. ha!