Why does Curley's wife not have a name in Of Mice and Men?

Curley's wife is never called by her own name as a way of depicting her lack of independence. By only referring to her as Curley's wife, her identity is confined to the limited, dependent role she must play in her marriage. This lack of autonomy further explains the reasoning for Curley's wife's discontentment, since she has almost no ability feel fulfilled as an individual.

Expert Answers

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

Curley's wife does not have a name because she does not have her own identity. She is just Curley's wife. She has no real sense of purpose. She does not fit in with the ranch hands. She lives a lonely existence. She has no friends:

Curley's wife (as the boss's son's flirtatious wife, she is not identified by any other name) wanders around the ranch searching for some human contact.

All that Curley's wife has is a dream. She is really considered a nobody. She has always dreamed to be a somebody. Sadly, all she can do is dream. Because of the isolation she lives in, she has no chance of ever making something of herself:

...she is pathetically lonely and had once had dreams of being a movie star. Both she and Crooks crave company and 'someone to talk to.'

Sadly enough, she is so desperate for attention until she reaches out of Lennie. She is flirtatious because she desires to have a name and be someone with a worthwhile purpose. In the end, Lennie accidentally breaks her neck. He too was reaching out for attention. She dies without a name. She is nameless because no one cares to know who she really is. The ranch hands have their own lives and she does not fit in.

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

Curley's wife, whose name is simply a genitive of him, is a stock character who is perceived as an Eve, or temptress intruding on the fraternity of men in Of Mice and Men.

After her first appearance in the narrative, George, who has noticed the way that she stands and arches her back, warns Lennie to avoid her, referring to her as "jail-bait," who will only get the men in trouble if given the opportunity. Certainly, she acts as a negative force for Curley, who constantly must look for her and worry about what she is doing.

Curley's wife is also a threat to the fraternity of men that Steinbeck proffers as the solution to the alienation that the disenfranchised suffer. For instance, when old Candy finds Lennie talking with Crooks, for the first time Candy enters the area that is Crooks's and talks to him--even revealing George and Lennie's plans for owning a farm. Crooks marvels that it seems as though the men will actually buy some land--"I never seen a guy really do it"--and he asks if he, too, can participate in this plan. Just as the men seem to unify, Curley's wife appears and spoils their fraternity as Candy tries to prevent her from entering. Ironically, she knows where Curley is as he has joined the other men who went to town. Candy asks her, "Then if you know, why you want to ast us where Curley is at?"

Well, I ain't giving you no trouble....Think I like to stick in that house alla time?"

Candy tries to get her to leave, but she refuses. "She looked from one face to another, and they were all closed against her." When an emboldened Crooks tells her that she has no right coming into his room, Curley's wife destroys the men's camaraderie as she derogates Crooks so brutally that he withdraws. Moreover, Curley's wife's cruel words that marginalize him so badly cause Crooks to tell Candy to forget what he said about joining in on the dream of a farm, "Well, jus' forget it...."

The next day Curley's wife finds Lennie in the barn and teases him. Even though Lennie tells her that George has instructed him not to talk with her-- "George says you'll get us in a mess"--she tries to engage with him in conversation, and she asks him to feel her hair. Lennie cannot resist her wiles and when he holds her too tightly, she struggles. As he tries to quiet her, Lennie's great strength accidentally breaks her neck, an act that destroys all hopes for the men for fulfilling their dream of an "Eden" where they can live out their lives happily.

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

I agree with historiaamator's post #9. Steinbeck needed a victim for his plot, which is essentially about how one man feels compelled to kill his best friend, thus ending their dream of owning their own farm. We can't help feeling somewhat sorry for the girl who is brutally murdered--but if we feel too sorry for her, then we won't feel sorry for Lennie or George at the end. Steinbeck seems to be walking a tightrope with his depiction of the girl (who is probably only 16 or 17). He deliberately makes her appear vicious when she verbally assaults Crooks in his room and suggests that she could have him lynched if she wanted to. But he makes her appear kind, naive, harmless and vulnerable when she is talking to Lennie in the barn. Steinbeck had another reason for not giving her a name: She is the only female in his cast of characters. The men need names for the reader to be able to tell them apart. The men's names are as simple as Steinbeck could make them--Crooks, Candy, Curley, Slim, George, Lennie. There is nothing so great about the men having such names.

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

I'd like to echo the sentiments of post #2 and agree that Curley's wife participates, as a character, in the theme of loneliness in Of Mice and Men. She is lonely, unhappily isolated, and seemingly powerless to change her situation.

I do not feel that she is an accidentally representative of a politically and socially 'weak femininity' in this story as some of the posts above suggest. There is evidence to support the idea that Curley's wife is intentionally representative of a population forced to thrive on dreams for spiritual sustenance.

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

This is a work that is supposed to show how American society has abandoned and abused many types of people.  Workers are abandoned (George, Lennie, etc), black people are abandoned (Crooks).  And women are abandoned and abused.  This is why Curley's wife doesn't get a name -- it is meant to symbolize the extent to which the society of the time devalued women and their lives.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team