Characterization: Curley’s Wife in Of Mice And Men
With colorful statements like “She had full, rouged lips and wide-spaced eyes, heavily made up. Her fingernails were red. Her hair hung in little rolled clusters, like sausages. She wore a cotton dress and red mules, on the insteps of which were little bouquets of red ostrich feathers” (John Steinbeck, 31), Curley’s wife is one of the more vividly portrayed characters in Of Mice and Men. Although Steinbeck leaves almost nothing to the imagination about this woman, he chooses to consistently refer to her as ‘Curley’s Wife’ rather than giving her a name or a nickname like he has done with most of the other characters.
Through indirect and direct characterization the reader discovers that this woman was not simply a ticket to trouble like the workers on her father-in-law’s ranch believed, but a girl stuck in a life where she didn’t belong.
Curley’s wife, who was incredibly lonely, was always ‘heavily made up’ even when she lived on the ranch where George and Lennie worked.
Although generally she was thought of as a floozy, her talk with Lennie revealed that she was used to the high life. When her parents forbade her to go into the acting business, as she so wished, she married Curley, the first man who offered her something other than stardom, in order to get away from her overbearing family (Steinbeck, 88). Although because of this decision she was forced to spend her life on a ranch full of underclass workers, she still liked to make herself up to constantly remind herself that she had had the potential to be something better.
To her, dressing up and flaunting her stuff was a symbol of status, something to set her apart from the rest of the lower class, which, even today, is not much different. Fashion magazines, television, and the general media still lead the public to believe that style directly connects to the amount of wealth or power someone has. When fashion trends change by the minute, it is generally thought that everything from wealth to sophistication is shown when someone is able to keep up with them (Appendix A). Curley’s wife considered always looking presentable as a constant reminder that she had once been considered good enough to go into the movie business and could have been something much better than the boss’s son’s wife.
Another reason Curley’s wife was constantly made up and wondering around the ranch was that she was lonely. With Curley always gone and having nothing in common with her, she had no one to keep her company and was forced to look for attention among the workers, who had long since learned to keep away from the boss’s daughter-in-law. “‘Funny thing,’ she said. ‘If I catch any one man, and he’s alone, I get along fine with him. But just let two of the guys get together an’ you won’t talk. Jus’ nothing but mad’” (Steinbeck, 77). Although Curley was very over-protective of his wife, he didn’t tend to her needs so she moseyed around looking for something to do or someone to talk to during the day.
And even though all she wanted was the attention Curley didn’t give her, the men in the ranch knew that talking to her would only lead to trouble. “Well, I aint giving you no trouble. Think I don’t like to talk to somebody ever’ once in a while? Think I like to stick around the house alla time?’” Curley’s wife had all the spare time in the world, and spends it making herself look as good as she can (Appendix B) and flaunts her body to anyone who will look. She desperately seeks attention and acknowledgment that she’s still got the looks that attracted all sorts of men to her before.
Steinbeck chose not to give Curley’s wife a real name because she was never able to make a name for herself; she was forced into a life where she was confined and unable to pursue her real dreams. She obviously wasn’t happy with her life living inside Curley’s ranch; she wasn’t meant to be the typical woman of that time who stays at home doing the cooking and cleaning for her husband. “…’Well, a show came through, an’ I met one of the actors. He says I could go with that show. But my ol’ lady wouldn’ let me. She says because I was on’y fifteen’”(Steinbeck, 88).
Curley’s wife desperately tries to show Lennie that she was better than this ranch; that she wasn’t common like the rest of the people there and that it was by fault that she was living where she was now. She needed to leave that ranch and pursue her dreams now that she was old enough to make her own decisions. She needed a ticket out of that city so she could go to Hollywood and make a name for herself (Appendix C).
Although Curly’s wife’s character was portrayed completely by John Steinbeck, she was never given a full name because her character isn’t full. She was missing something; she wasn’t in her rightful place. Curley’s wife wasn’t meant to live her life on the ranch, and her character wasn’t completed because of it. Steinbeck showed this the only tangible way he could, with the lack of a name for her. She wasn’t like the rest of the people on the ranch, with a name or nickname; she was referred to as ‘Curley’s Wife’. She stood out by the fact that she was the only woman on the ranch, she was the only one who dressed to impress, and she was the only person without a full name. She didn’t belong and even if she had lived she never would.
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