How does Steinbeck encourage us to sympathise with and condemn Curley’s Wife?
Curley’s Wife is a character who is used by Steinbeck to achieve three main aims in his novel ‘Of Mice and Men’. Firstly, she is a character used simply to advance the plot of the novel. Secondly, her short life story tells us about the reality of dreams that can never be fulfilled and reflects the harsh end to George and Lennie’s own dream. Finally, her marriage to Curley provides the reader with an insight into the place of women in 1920s American society and their growing struggle to reconcile the American Dream of equality with the patriarchal values of the American Household.
In the reader’s first encounter with Curley’s wife, Steinbeck presents her as a character who is certainly deserving of our condemnation. She is presented as the epitome of ‘femme fatale’ when she is described ‘She had full, rouged lips and wide spaced eyes, heavily made up. Her fingernails were red...she wore a cotton house dress and red mules, on the insteps of which were little bouquets of red ostrich feathers’. Steinbeck’s repeated use of the word red encourages us to condemn Curley’s wife as red is a colour associated with: danger, guilt, sacrifice, sin, passion and anger, often as connected with blood or sex. Another example of her negative presentation along these lines is when Candy says to George ‘You’ll see plenty. She ain’t concealin’ nothing. I never seen nobody like her. She got the eye goin’ all the time on everybody.’ Whilst superficially this would encourage the reader to condemn Curley’s Wife as a tart, one has to consider the bias of the man speaking it and realise that men like Candy have worked on ranches all their lives and therefore their view of women is likely to be inaccurate or exaggerated and prejudiced.
A perhaps more dramatic example of when we are expected to condemn Curley’s Wife is after her racist behaviour towards Crooks. This is most clearly shown on page 113 where she...