Why did Curley's wife marry Curley in John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men?

Curley's wife married Curley in Of Mice and Men because she felt that marrying Curley was her best option at the time to escape her mother's oppressive influence, move out of her childhood home, and experience some degree of autonomy. In chapter 5, Curley's wife goes into detail regarding why she decided to marry Curley.

Expert Answers

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

Curley's wife married Curley primarily because she wanted to get out from under her mother's thumb. Her mother controlled pretty much every aspect of her life, and as something of a free spirit, Curley's wife instinctively rebelled against what she saw as her mother's petty restrictions.

Curley's wife has long harbored dreams of becoming a big Hollywood star. Back in the day, a man told her that he could help her make it in the movies. But her mother ended her hopes—at least what she thinks—and so Curley's wife remained trapped in a lifeless, unsatisfying existence.

Marrying Curley was therefore a way for his wife to escape a troubled home-life and perhaps gain some independence. As it turns out, Curley's wife has simply exchanged one dead-end home environment for another. She's hitched to a man she neither likes nor respects, and as the only woman on the ranch, she has no friends and so must resort to striking up chats with the farmworkers, who regard her with contempt.

One could say that Curley's wife represents the lack of opportunity for women in 1930s America. The only viable options for most women at that time were to stay at home with their folks or get married. As Curley's wife discovers, that isn't really much of a choice at all.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles
Curley's wife is depicted as an attractive, lonely young woman, who is unhappily married and desires to leave the ranch. The workers go out of their way to avoid her and refrain from speaking to her out of fear that they might get fired. Curley's wife has a terrible reputation among the workers, and she is referred to as a "tart," "jailbait," and a "whore." They believe that Curley's wife has a wandering eye, and George gives Lennie explicit instructions not to speak to her. George recognizes that Curley's wife will cause them nothing but trouble, and Lennie attempts to follow his directions but cannot avoid interacting with her.

In chapter 5, Curley's wife enters the barn and has a conversation with Lennie, who is upset that he accidentally killed his puppy. Curley's wife unburdens herself to Lennie, and the reader gains valuable insight into her background. According to Curley's wife, she hates her husband, who is aggressive and domineering. Curley's wife says that she met a guy in the "pitchers," and he told her that he could put her in the movies. Unfortunately, she never received a letter from him and still believes that her mother stole it. Curley's wife then says,

Well, I wasn't gonna stay no place where I couldn't get nowhere or make something of myself, an' where they stole your letters. I ast her if she stole it, too, an' she says no. So I married Curley. Met him out to the Riverside Dance Palace that same night (Steinbeck, 88).
Given Curley's wife's story, one could discern that she decided to marry Curley because she was out of options and simply wanted to leave her home. Curley's wife probably felt that marrying Curley was her best option at the time to experience some degree of autonomy and freedom from her mother. Unfortunately, Curley's wife made the mistake of marrying a pugnacious, aggressive man.
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In John Steinbeck's novel Of Mice and MenCurley's wife is an important character because she drives the plot forward and is at the center of the climax of the novel. Despite her importance to the novel, readers learn very little about her. She is known only as "Curley's wife."

To find the answer to the question of why she marries Curley, readers must look in chapter five. Prior to that chapter, hints are dropped that Curley's wife may have a wandering eye. Some of the men call her a "tart" and say they've seen her sneaking glances at the men. Curley's wife finds Lennie alone in the barn, and she is lonely. She begins talking to Lennie, pouring out her heart. She explains that it was her dream to be an actress. She was even "discovered" by a man who worked in pictures, but her mother wouldn't allow it. Because her mother restricted her from pursuing her dream, she decided to escape from her any way she could. That is the reason she gives for why she married Curley. In the quote below, she is telling Lennie about the letter the man who worked in pictures promised her. 

"I never got that letter," she said. "I always thought my ol' lady stole it. Well, I wasn't gonna stay no place where I couldn't get nowhere or make something of myself, an' where they stole your letters, I ast her if she stole it, too, an' she says no. So I married Curley. Met him out to the Riverside Dance Palace that same night."

From this quote, readers can see she married Curley impulsively, out of spite for her mother and to escape from her mother's authority.

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

In John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men," little is known of Curley's wife other than the fact that she is from Salinas.  One evening when she enters the stables and Crooks's room, she talks to Lennie and Crooks.  She tells them that she had aspirations of becoming an actress; her hopes were dashed, however, when her mother forbade her to run off with a young man who was an actor.  From Salinas, a name that connotes loneliness, Curley's wife met him at a dance:

So I married Curley.  Met him out to the Riverside Dance Palace that same night.

At first she was impressed with Curley's physical prowess.  But, now, she is tired of his pugnacious way of talking about the next person he will beat or punch:

I'm glad you bust up Curley a little bit.  He got it comin' to him.  Sometimes I'd like to bust him, myself.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team