Why is Curley's wife not given a name in Of Mice and Men?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.