Picture one dream you have for yourself. Imagine having to abandon that dream for an inexplainable or unfair reason and instead live in a constant state of loneliness and alienation where you are treated like nothing more than an object. John Steinbeck examines these issues of discrimination and alienation realistically as they relate to gender equality through his novella Of Mice and Men. Set during the Great Depression in the 1930’s, the ADJ plot follows the intricate friendship of George and Lennie as they begin working on a ranch in central California. Within the novel, discrimination and unethical treatment of women is addressed by Curley’s wife. John Steinbeck uses the discrimination of Curley’s wife in his novel, Of Mice and Men, to depict the theme of alienation. Through a female character, one who is not even given a name, Steinbeck criticizes the American society for its disenfranchisement of women and its relegation of unworthy or gender specific roles through Curley’s wife’s words and actions.
Steinbeck prominently displays the oppression of women by simply only referring to her as “Curley’s wife,” but more so through the extensive objectification of Curley’s wife, stripping her of ___. For example, by referring to the only female as the bride of a male, Steinbeck shows Curley’s wife as only an extension of Curley, not an individual person; she has no personal identity. Furthermore, through the use of the possessive noun, “Curley’s,” Steinbeck further exaggerates Curley’s ownership. This is important because readers are forced to relate to her through Curley; all of her “power” comes from the ranch workers’ fear of Curley. An example of this is when Curley’s wife goes to Crooks bunk to ask for Curley’s whereabouts, Crooks says “Maybe you better go along to your own house now. We don’t want no trouble” (84). In addition, Steinbeck describes Curley’s wife by stating “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” (34). Steinbeck utilizes the rhetorical technique of omitting details to portray Curley’s wife as strictly an object with a focus on looks, and no personality traits. Curley’s wife’s red proactive clothing and accessories combined with her “heavily made up” look makes the reader assume that Curley’s wife is one who is artificial and values aesthetics over personality.
She is merely the spouse of Curley as far as all of the men in the ranch are concerned. “They are only forced to relate to her through Curley; if they fear him or want no trouble, the men will stay away from her. George, for example, has set goals in his mind that he is committed , thus he will stay away from her in order not to get into any trouble. ON the other hand, if they do not fear anyone, they can enjoy their time with the intention of forming a physical relationship with her. Lennie, whos childish mind cannot comprehend why he should stay away from
Steinbeck undoubtedly shows that the power is centered on the majority sex, the males, against the minority, the females, through Curley’s wife’s language and acts of a mean and seductive temptress; however, despite her cruelties, she reaches out just to talk to someone. Curley’s wife is the only woman on the ranch and her gender isolates her from the rest. For example, the swamper, when talking about Curley’s wife, states, “’Well—she got the eye.’ The swamper warned. ‘Yeah? Married two weeks and got the eye? Maybe that’s why Curley’s pants is full of ants.” This shows that due to her constant isolation, she is known to all the farm workers for her constant attempts to manipulate men, for relieving her boredom and loneliness. Steinbeck demonstrates how the desperation that loneliness and discrimination ensues brings a person to seek companionship and attention; in Curley’s wife’s case, she finds companionship through flirtatious conversations.
Through the objectification of Curley’s wife, and her words and actions, Steinbeck cleverly weaves in the social issue of sexual discrimination. History is always taught to ensure we do not make the same mistake; the ideology that one gender is above another is a prime example. Through the realistic depiction of a darker time in our past, Steinbeck helps stimulate a brighter and more just future.