What does Curley's wife reveal about herself in chapter 5 of Of Mice and Men?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Curley's wife reveals that she always wanted to go to Hollywood and make it as a movie star. Once upon a time, a member of a traveling troupe passing through her hometown told Curley's wife that she might have a future in movies and that he would write to her from Hollywood. But Curley's wife never heard from him again; she thinks that her mother must have torn up any letters he sent her.

It was largely as a way of escaping such a stultifying home life that Curley's wife got married to a man she didn't love. As a result, she finds herself trapped in an environment from which there's no escape. Bored out of her mind and stuck in a loveless marriage that's going nowhere, Curley's wife feels the loss of her big chance at movie stardom most keenly.

Like just about everyone else in the story, then, Curley's wife has dreams, and very ambitious dreams they are too. But just like everyone else, her dreams will ultimately come to nothing. Though Curley's wife is a deeply unsympathetic character in many respects, the thwarting of her life's ambitions has a certain tragic quality to it. There's also a terrible sense of inevitability about it.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on April 8, 2020
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In chapter five Candy, Curley's wife, tells Lenny that she could have made something better of herself other than just being the wife of Curley who she says "ain't a nice fella." She continues to say that when she was 15 years old she met an actor from a travelling show who invited her to join the show, but her mother wouldn't let her. A while later she went with another man to a dance who told her that he could put her in the movies. "Says I was a natural." He promised to send her a letter, but she never received it.

Though one could say her story shows her to be naive, you get the feeling that she is too canny to share the story with anyone else but Lenny. She knows he can't fully understand the nuances of what she is telling him. As she says, "I ain't told this to nobody before."

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The main thing that Curley's wife reveals about herself in chapter 5 is that she has dreams of becoming a movie star and is totally ignorant about acting or about the movie business. All she knows is that some man told her she was a "natural." She tells Lennie:

"Coulda been in the movies, an' had nice clothes--all them nice clothes like they wear. An' I coulda sat in them big hotels, an' had pitchers took of me. When they had them previews I coulda went to them, an' spoke in the radio, an' it wouldn'ta cost me a cent because I was in the pitcher. An' all them nice clothes like they wear. Because this guy says I was a natural."

This explains her behavior around the ranch workers. They think she is "jail bait" and a "tart," a promiscuous underage girl who could cause all kinds of trouble. She is really only trying out her charms and acting ability on the only audience that is available out here. It explains why she devotes so much attention to her makeup and her curls. Lennie doesn't understand what she is talking about. The only man on the ranch who understands her is Slim. He knows she is just a little girl with grandiose delusions, and he pretends to be impressed by her because he is a kind-hearted man and really feels sorry for her. He knows she hasn't a chance in the world of becoming a movie star, and he pities the poor kid for being married to a man like Curley.

Unfortunately, Curley's wife fails to realize that her provocative behavior will lead to her death. The other men know better than to get involved with her. They shun her.  But Lennie does not have any self-control, and he completely forgets about George's earlier warning to stay away from this girl.

"Listen to me, you crazy bastard," he said fiercely. "Don't you even take a look at that bitch. I don't care what she says and what she does. I seen 'em poison before, but I never seen no piece of jail bait worse than her. You leave her be."

She approaches Lennie in the barn because he is the only man she can talk to. She also reveals to Lennie that she dislikes her husband and that she feels lonely most of the time. Lennie probably understands little, if anything, of what she is talking about. But he has found her attractive ever since he first saw her in the bunkhouse.

Lennie still stared at the doorway where she had been. "Gosh, she was purty." He smiled admiringly.

The alert reader should realize that this foreshadows serious future trouble.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial