Do you feel sympathy for Curley’s wife in Of Mice and Men? If so, why?

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Probably the perspective of readers toward Curley's wife has changed during the decades since Of Mice and Men was published. Steinbeck draws her character in an unsubtle way, so that she might have been seen by many as a stereotype of a troublemaking young woman. We see little of the backstory of her marriage to Curley, but we see enough that the basic situation is made clear. Interestingly, the film versions of the novel, including even the first one from 1939, show her character in a more sympathetic light than the book itself does.

Curley's wife feels neglected and bored. It's clear that her husband is a typically arrogant, domineering man of that time who treats her more as a possession than as a wife. Under these circumstances it's impossible not to feel empathy for her. By paying what would be considered, especially at that time, inappropriate attention to the ranch laborers, she is trying to fill the emptiness resulting from her isolated position on the ranch and an unhappy marriage. That her attention to Lenny precipitates the tragedy is an accident rather than a deliberate act. Steinbeck's symbolism is often, and rather obviously, derived from the Bible, and perhaps he intended Curley's wife as an Eve-figure, destroying the incipient paradise George, Lenny and Candy wish to create. Yet she herself is at least as much a victim of the dynamic of that time and place as the men on the ranch are.

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Despite the fact that Curley's wife comes across as hostile and racist in chapter four, she is certainly a sympathetic character and one of the loneliest individuals on the ranch. Curley's wife is married to a pugnacious, arrogant man who is depicted as controlling and overbearing. Curley is extremely insecure and constantly worries about his wife's whereabouts. As the only female on the ranch, Curley's wife has no one to relate to and struggles to carry on conversations with the workers, who fear that Curley will fire them if they talk to her. Curley's wife also resents marrying her husband and tells Lennie that Curley "ain’t a nice fella." She also regrets not leaving town and taking advantage of the opportunity to be in the movies.

The only person who gives Curley's wife the time of day is Lennie, who is also an outcast on the farm. Tragically, Lennie snaps Curley's wife's neck on accident after she panics while he is petting her hair. It would be difficult not to sympathize with a lonely woman who is married to an extremely aggressive, hostile man and does not have a bright future.

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I do feel sympathy for Curley's wife. She is a very young woman—a teenage girl—and the only woman on the ranch. She feels isolated, and she says the following to Crooks, who tries to shoo her away when she visits for fear Curley will be jealous:

Think I don’t like to talk to somebody ever’ once in a while? Think I like to stick in that house alla time?”

She is dissatisfied with Curley, a man she married because of a lack of alternatives. He bores her with all his talk about the fights he has been in and his blow-by-blow descriptions of them. She tells Lennie she is glad he roughed Curley up and says she would like to do the same sometimes:

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

Curley's wife feels she could have been in the movies, a story she keeps going back to. She says:

An’ a guy tol’ me he could put me in pitchers.

Curley's wife insults the ranch hands by calling them bindle stiffs and threatens Crooks with lynching, but it is clear she is lonely, bored, and unhappy in her marriage to a jealous and self-centered man. When she talks to and flirts with Lennie out of boredom by having him touch her hair, she does not appreciate the danger of her actions.

Like the ranch hands, Curley's wife is trapped by circumstances. Her attempts to reach out, however misguided, lead to her death. It is hard not to feel sympathy for her given how lonely she felt on the ranch and because she died so young.

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