America has always been known as a ‘land of hope and opportunity’, where the likes of Dellboy and Rodney go to become mill-yan-airs. The early migrants to America went to achieve a better and happier life than the hardships they were escaping, and this mentality and faith that hard work will be rewarded with success has been passed from generation to generation. In its infancy, America was a land of rich material resources and copious amounts of space, and its society was not confined to the rigid class system of Britain. As the founding fathers had expressed, it was a land of equality, and possible for anyone to get rich as long as they were willing to work hard for it.
However, as many American novelists have portrayed in the past, in reality there is no society where only a handful of people become rich. In a depressed 1930’s California, the majority of people were poor and had very few opportunities to succeed economically. Nevertheless, the belief that the opportunities existed still created expectations and disappointments. Throughout the novel, Steinbeck cleverly shows the juxtaposition between the ideal of ‘the American dream’ and the reality of widespread poverty, loss and deprivation.
All the main characters in Of Mice and Men acknowledge, at one point or another, to envisaging a different and better life. Before her death, Curley’s wife confesses her desire to be in the ‘pitchers’. Crooks, ‘proud and aloof’ as he is, allows himself the idyllic fantasy of working on Lennie’s farm one day, and Candy latches on desperately to George’s vision of living ‘off the fatta the lan’. However, Steinbeck’s pessimistic view of the harsh reality of 1930s America is alluded to before story begins: circumstances have robbed most of the characters of these dreams before they could become reality. Curley’s wife, for instance, has resigned herself to an unfulfilling marriage. What makes all of these dreams typically American is that the dreamers wish for untarnished happiness, for the freedom to follow their own desires. George and Lennie’s dream of owning a farm, which would enable them to sustain themselves, and, most important, offer them protection from an inhospitable world, represents a prototypically American ideal. Their journey, which awakens George to the impossibility of this dream, sadly proves that the bitter Crooks is right: such paradises of freedom, contentment, and safety are not to be found in this world. (BBC Bitesize)
Key Quotations and Analysis:
George: ‘”O.K. Someday—we’re gonna get the jack together and we’re gonna have a little house and a couple of acres an’ a cow and some pigs and—”
“An’ live off the fatta the lan’,” Lennie shouted. “An’ have rabbits. Go on, George! Tell about what we’re gonna have in the garden and about the rabbits in the cages and about the rain in the winter and the stove, and how thick the cream is on the milk like you can hardly cut it. Tell about that George.”
“Why’n’t you do it yourself? You know all of it.”
“No…you tell it. It ain’t the same if I tell it. Go on…George. How I get to tend the rabbits.”’ (P. 32)
The particular version of the ‘American Dream’ that sustains George and Lennie’s hope for a better life is the dream of buying and farming their own small piece of land and being independent. If they can achieve this, they will have to answer to no one and free from the monotony of moving from ranch to ranch. The biggest attraction for Lennie is that they will be able to have rabbit and he will be able to look after them. George, in response to Lennie’s constant nagging, describes how they will have ‘a little house and a couple of acres’ and be free to enjoy the unrestricted lifestyle attributed to being your own boss. As Lennie famously quotes, they will ‘live off the fatta the lan’.
Steinbeck’s use of sensory language here is interesting, especially the gustatory imagery (linked to food) when describing the ‘cream on the milk’. This reflects how poor the two drifters are as they are looking forward to days when they no longer have to eat a tin of beans to get by. Furthermore, the fact that George declares that Lennie knows ‘all of it’, show the reader that the description of their dream is recounted regularly, showing how much of a source of comfort it is to them.
Crooks: ‘seen hundreds of men come by on the road an’ on the ranches, with their bindles on their back an’ that same damn thing in their heads . . . every damn one of ’em’s got a little piece of land in his head. An’ never a God damn one of ’em ever gets it. Just like heaven. Ever’body wants a little piece of lan’. I read plenty of books out here. Nobody never gets to heaven, and nobody gets no land.’ (P. 81)
On the other hand, Crooks puts the dream into the context of harsh reality. He explains that he has seen hundreds of men with the same dream, and that it never comes true for any of them. The comparison between ‘heaven’ and ‘land’ is startling to the reader, as it suggests that God has abandoned ‘every damn one of ‘em’ and all hope is lost. Furthermore, the constant repetition of the ‘damn’ and ‘never’ shows how bitter and angry he is at the prospect of his dream of being accepted in society ever coming true. However, the repetition also suggest how hopeless the main characters are and how they are no different to the ‘hundreds of men’ Crooks has seen before.
George: “Sure,” said George. “All kin’s a vegetables in the garden, and if we want a little whisky we can sell a few eggs or something, or some milk. We’d jus’ live there. We’d belong there. There wouldn’t be no more runnin’ round the country and gettin’ fed by a Jap cook. No, sir, we’d have our own place where we belonged and not sleep in no bunk house.”
They fell into a silence. They looked at one another, amazed. This thing they had never really believed in was coming true. (P. 66)
The men’s optimism is epitomised in this short section in chapter three. George is convinced that Candy’s financial contribution will allow them to achieve the dream of owning their smallholding. Furthermore, the fact that George states that they would ‘belong there’ highlights the nomadic migrant lifestyle they currently live. The use of sensory language once again suggests the importance of the dream, they ‘fell into silence’ creates a dramatic pause for the reader, allowing them to reflect on how dreams can become reality.
Curleys’ wife: “I tell you I ain’t used to livin’ like this. I coulda made somethin’ of myself.” She said darkly, “Maybe I will yet.” And then her words tumbled out in a passion of communication, as though she hurried before her listener could be taken away. “I lived right in Salinas,” she said. “Come there when I was a kid. Well, a show come 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. But the guy says I coulda. If I’d went, I wouldn’t be livin’ like this, you bet.” (P. 124)
Steinbeck presents Curley’s wife in a myriad of different ways throughout the text. We need to ask ourselves a variety of different questions regarding Steinbeck’s intentions. Overall, we should consider how Steinbeck wants us to perceive her. We can begin by exploring how the author first introduces the character of Curley’s wife via the perspective of other characters. For example, before we meet her, Candy tells George that he has seen her ‘give Slim the eye’ and that she’s ‘ tart’ (p. 49-50)
Her physical appearance reinforces the negative imagery created by Candy. Furthermore, her first appearance in the bunk house blocks out the light: ‘the rectangle of sunshine in the doorway was cut off. A girl was standing there looking in’ (p. 53). She is dressed all in red and is ‘heavily made up’, connoting a range of different emotions: danger, passion, seduction and love.
However, in section five the reader is finally introduced to the ‘real’ Curley’s wife. She is lonely, isolated by the rest of the men and unhappily married to Curley, who ‘aint a nice fella’. We can infer that she rarely has the opportunity to speak to other ranch workers by the fact the ‘her words tumbled out in a passion of communication, as though she hurried before the listener could be taken away’. This evokes a feeling of pity in the reader, as all she wants to in life is someone to confide in. Furthermore, her innocence, and perhaps naivety is shown when she believe that her ‘ol’ lady’ stole the letters from the actor away from her. Finally, Curley’s wife’s heart-breaking reality is summarised in the quote “I coulda made somethin’ of myself.” She said darkly, “Maybe I will yet.” One could argue that she never could have achieved her dream due to the social and cultural constrictions on her life due to her gender. Nevertheless, the ominous and foreshadowing adverb ‘darkly’ affects the reader greatly as we see how fragile and condemned she is.
Please find below all Of Mice and Men questions from the AQA Literature exam from the past few years. As you can see, the question provides you with a short extract from the novel, and asks you to read the passage before answering part A and part B.
- Part A asks you to closely analyse the methods and techniques used by Steinbeck to create a particular atmosphere, describe an important setting, convey a particular theme or present an interesting character. It is imperative that you think carefully about why Steinbeck has chosen specific words and images, and the effect this creates in the reader. For this question, really ZOOM IN on the connotations of language and feelings presented.
- Part B will ask you to link the extract to the social, historical and cultural context of the novel – 1930s America. You will have to ZOOM OUT on the extract to examine how it demonstrates what life was like for those living in this particular time period, and how this is also presented in the rest of the novel.
You should spend no more than 45 minutes answering this question. There is no set rule, but I personally recommend that you focus on part A for 25 minutes, leaving 20 minutes for part B and proofreading your work.
The question is marked out of 30, with four marks being awarded for accurate and sophisticated spelling, punctuation and grammar. Therefore, please ensure that you edit your work in the final few minutes of the exam, correcting simple mistakes.
Finally, feel free to attempt any of the following questions and add your response in the comments section. I will happily mark all answers and provide you with critical feedback.
Higher Tier Of Mice and Men – Jan 2011
Read the passage and then answer part (a) and part (b).
The old man was reassured. He had drawn a derogatory statement from George. He felt safe now, and he spoke more confidently. ‘Wait’ll you see Curley’s wife.’
George cut the cards again and put out a solitaire lay, slowly and deliberately.
‘Purty?’ he asked casually.
‘Yeah. Purty … but ––’
George studied his cards. ‘But what?’
‘Well – she got the eye.’
‘Yeah? Married two weeks and got the eye? Maybe that’s why Curley’s pants is full of ants.’
‘I seen her give Slim the eye. Slim’s a jerkline skinner. Hell of a nice fella. Slim don’t need to wear no high-heeled boots on a grain team. I seen her give Slim the eye. Curley never seen it. An’ I seen her give Carlson the eye.’
George pretended a lack of interest. ‘Looks like we was gonna have fun.’
The swamper stood up from his box. ‘Know what I think?’ George did not answer.
‘Well, I think Curley’s married … a tart.’
‘He ain’t the first,’ said George. ‘There’s plenty done that.’
The old man moved toward the door, and his ancient dog lifted his head and peered about, and then got painfully to his feet to follow. ‘I gotta be settin’ out the wash basins for the guys. The teams’ll be in before long. You guys gonna buck barley?’
‘You won’t tell Curley nothing I said?’
‘Well, you look her over, mister. You see if she ain’t a tart.’ He stepped out the door into the brilliant sunshine.
(a) What methods does Steinbeck use in this passage to present Candy?
and then Part (b)
(b) How do you think Steinbeck uses the character of Candy in the novel as a whole to
convey important ideas about society at that time? (30 marks)
Higher Tier Of Mice and Men – Jun 2011
Read the passage and then answer part (a) and part (b)
‘I don’t want no fights,’ said Lennie. He got up from his bunk and sat down at the table, across from George. Almost automatically George shuffled the cards and laid out his solitaire hand. He used a deliberate, thoughtful, slowness.
Lennie reached for a face card and studied it, then turned it upside down and studied it. ‘Both ends the same,’ he said, ‘George, why is it both end’s the same?’
‘I don’t know,’ said George. ‘That’s jus’ the way they make ’em. What was Slim doin’ in the barn when you seen him?’
‘Sure. You seen him in the barn, an’ he tol’ you not to pet the pups so much.’
‘Oh yeah. He had a can a’ tar an’ a paint brush. I don’t know what for.’
‘You sure that girl didn’t come in like she come in here today?’
‘No. She never come.’
George sighed. ‘You give me a good whore house every time,’ he said. ‘A guy can go in an’ get drunk and get ever’thing outta his system all at once, an’ no messes. And he knows how much it’s gonna set him back. These here jail baits is just set on the trigger of the hoosegow.’
Lennie followed his words admiringly, and moved his lips a little to keep up. George continued, ‘You remember Andy Cushman, Lennie? Went to grammar school?’
‘The one that his old lady used to make hot cakes for the kids?’ Lennie asked.
‘Yeah. That’s the one. You can remember anything if there’s anything to eat in it.’
George looked carefully at the solitaire hand. He put an ace up on his scoring rack and piled a two, three and four of diamonds on it. ‘Andy’s in San Quentin right now on account of a tart,’ said George.
Lennie drummed on the table with his fingers. ‘George?’
‘George, how long’s it gonna be till we get that little place an’ live on the fatta the
lan’ – an’ rabbits?’
(a) How do the details in this passage add to your understanding of George and his
relationship with Lennie?
and then Part (b)
(b) How does Steinbeck use their relationship in the novel as a whole to convey ideas
about America in the 1930s? (30 marks)
Higher Tier Of Mice and Men – Jan 2012
Read the following passage and then answer part (a) and part (b).
The bunk house was a long, rectangular building. Inside, the walls were whitewashed and the floor unpainted. In three walls there were small, square windows, and in the fourth, a solid door with a wooden latch. Against the walls were eight bunks, five of them made up with blankets and the other three showing their burlap ticking. Over each bunk there was nailed an apple box with the opening forward so that it made two shelves for the personal belongings of the occupant of the bunk. And these shelves were loaded with little articles, soap and talcum powder, razors and those Western magazines ranch men love to read and scoff at and secretly believe. And there were medicines on the shelves, and little vials, combs; and from nails on the box sides, a few neckties. Near one wall there was a black cast-iron stove, its stove-pipe going
straight up through the ceiling. In the middle of the room stood a big square table littered with playing cards, and around it were grouped boxes for the players to sit on.
At about ten o’clock in the morning the sun threw a bright dust-laden bar through one of the side windows, and in and out of the beam flies shot like rushing stars.
The wooden latch raised. The door opened and a tall, stoop-shouldered old man came in. He was dressed in blue jeans and he carried a big push-broom in his left hand. Behind him came George, and behind George, Lennie.
‘The boss was expectin’ you last night,’ the old man said. ‘He was sore as hell when you wasn’t here to go out this morning.’ He pointed with his right arm, and out of the sleeve came a round stick-like wrist, but no hand. ‘You can have them two beds there,’ he said, indicating two bunks near the stove.
George stepped over and threw his blankets down on the burlap sack of straw that was a mattress. He looked into the box shelf and then picked a small yellow can from it. ‘Say. What the hell’s this?’
‘I don’t know,’ said the old man.
‘Says “positively kills lice, roaches, and other scourges”. What the hell kind of bed you giving us, anyways. We don’t want no pants rabbits.’
How does Steinbeck use details in this passage to present the bunkhouse and its
and then Part (b)
In the rest of the novel, how does Steinbeck present the lives of ranch workers at that
time? (30 marks)
Higher Tier Of Mice and Men – Jun 2012
Read the following passage and then answer part (a) and part (b).
Both men glanced up, for the rectangle of sunshine in the doorway was cut off. A girl was standing there looking in. 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 house dress and red mules, on the insteps of which were little bouquets of red ostrich feathers. ‘I’m lookin’ for Curley,’ she said. Her voice had a nasal, brittle quality.
George looked away from her and then back. ‘He was in here a minute ago, but he
‘Oh!’ She put her hands behind her back and leaned against the door frame so that her body was thrown forward. ‘You’re the new fellas that just come, ain’t ya?’
Lennie’s eyes moved down over her body, and though she did not seem to be looking at Lennie she bridled a little. She looked at her fingernails. ‘Sometimes Curley’s in here,’ she explained.
George said brusquely, ‘Well he ain’t now.’
‘If he ain’t, I guess I better look some place else,’ she said playfully.
Lennie watched her, fascinated. George said, ‘If I see him, I’ll pass the word you was looking for him.’
She smiled archly and twitched her body. ‘Nobody can’t blame a person for lookin’,’ she said. There were footsteps behind her, going by. She turned her head. ‘Hi, Slim,’ she said.
Slim’s voice came through the door, ‘Hi, good-lookin’.’
‘I’m tryin’ to fi nd Curley, Slim.’
‘Well, you ain’t tryin’ very hard. I seen him goin’ in your house.’
She was suddenly apprehensive. ‘Bye, boys,’ she called into the bunk house, and she hurried away.
George looked around at Lennie. ‘Jesus, what a tramp,’ he said. ‘So that’s what Curley picks for a wife.’
In this passage, what methods does Steinbeck use to present Curley’s wife and the
attitudes of others to her? Refer closely to the passage in your answer.
and then Part (b)
How does Steinbeck present attitudes to women in the society in which the novel is set?
Higher Tier Of Mice and Men – Jan 2013
Read the following passage and then answer Part (a) and Part (b).
Crooks possessed several pairs of shoes, a pair of rubber boots, a big alarm clock and a single-barreled shotgun. And he had books, too; a tattered dictionary and a mauled copy of the California civil code for 1905. There were battered magazines and a few dirty books on a special shelf over his bunk. A pair of large gold-rimmed spectacles hung from a nail on the wall above his bed.
This room was swept and fairly neat, for Crooks was a proud, aloof man. He kept his distance and demanded that other people kept theirs. His body was bent over to the left by his crooked spine, and his eyes lay deep in his head, and because of their depth seemed to glitter with intensity. His lean face was lined with deep black wrinkles, and he had thin, pain-tightened lips which were lighter than his face.
It was Saturday night. Through the open door that led into the barn came the sound of moving horses, of feet stirring, of teeth champing on hay, of the rattle of halter chains. In the stable buck’s room a small electric globe threw a meager yellow light.
Crooks sat on his bunk. His shirt was out of his jeans in back. In one hand he held a bottle of liniment, and with the other he rubbed his spine. Now and then he poured a few drops of the liniment into his pink-palmed hand and reached up under his shirt to rub again. He flexed his muscles against his back and shivered.
Noiselessly Lennie appeared in the open doorway and stood there looking in, his big shoulders nearly fi lling the opening. For a moment Crooks did not see him, but on raising his eyes he stiffened and a scowl came on his face. His hand came out from under his shirt.
Lennie smiled helplessly in an attempt to make friends.
Crooks said sharply, ‘You got no right to come in my room. This here’s my room. Nobody got any right in here but me.’
In this passage, how does Steinbeck present Crooks? Refer closely to the passage in
and then Part (b)
In the rest of the novel how does Steinbeck use Crooks to present attitudes to black
people at the time the novel is set? (30 marks)
SPaG: (4 marks)
Higher Tier Of Mice and Men – June 2013
Read the following passage and then answer Part (a) and Part (b).
A tall man stood in the doorway. He held a crushed Stetson hat under his arm while he combed his long, black, damp hair straight back. Like the others he wore blue jeans and a short denim jacket. When he had finished combing his hair he moved into the room, and he moved with a majesty only achieved by royalty and master craftsmen. He was a jerkline skinner, the prince of the ranch, capable of driving ten, sixteen, even twenty mules with a single line to the leaders. He was capable of killing a fly on the wheeler’s butt with a bull whip without touching the mule. There was a gravity in his manner and a quiet so profound that all talk stopped when he spoke.
His authority was so great that his word was taken on any subject, be it politics or love. This was Slim, the jerkline skinner. His hatchet face was ageless. He might have been thirty-five or fifty. His ear heard more than was said to him, and his slow speech had overtones not of thought, but of understanding beyond thought. His hands, large and lean, were as delicate in their action as those of a temple dancer. He smoothed out his crushed hat, creased it in the middle and put it on. He looked kindly at the two in the bunk house. ‘It’s brighter’n a bitch outside,’ he said gently.
‘Can’t hardly see nothing in here. You the new guys?’
‘Just come,’ said George.
‘Gonna buck barley?’
‘That’s what the boss says.’
Slim sat down on a box across the table from George. He studied the solitaire hand that was upside down to him. ‘Hope you get on my team,’ he said. His voice was very gentle. ‘I gotta pair of punks on my team that don’t know a barley bag from a blue ball. You guys ever bucked any barley?’
In this passage, how does Steinbeck present Slim? Refer closely to the passage in your
and then Part (b)
In the rest of the novel, how does Steinbeck show that some people on the ranch are
considered more important than others? How does this reflect the society in which the
novel is set?(30 marks)
Of Mice and Men is rife with lonely characters, all looking for friendship and a better existence. However, it is interesting to note that no one is really alone: people live and work in close proximity to one another and have different forms of relationships. The theme is introduced early in the novel, when George states to Lennie that ‘Guys like us, who work on the ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place.’ (P31-32) The use of the superlative ‘loneliest’ suggests that the migrant drifters are outcaste from society, hoping that one day they will find their place in the world. However, George goes on to state that he and Lennie are different from other ranch workers as they have each other. Therefore, Steinbeck is creating a world where isolation and loneliness is everywhere, yet friendship is an escape from it.
The friendship formed between George and Lennie is the only true relationship presented in the novel. Characters such as Crooks and Candy are too different from the other ranchers to be viewed as friends; Curley is just too unpleasant and mean; the Boss and Slim may have buddies, but we never meet them as a reader; and Carlson is just a bit of a dick (who really shoots a guy’s dog?) One could suggest that this is Steinbeck’s clever tactic not to overload the short novel with a plethora of unnecessary and forgettable characters (such as Whit – Who? Indeed), but it also helps to emphasise the loneliness of most characters, when compared to the friendship George and Lennie have.
Steinbeck litters his narrative with characters on the ranch who are lonely: rootless souls with no family connection or friends; but the three loneliest people in the novel are those who have no chance of escaping in the future:
Candy is old. He has one hand, the other lost in a farming accident. His best friend is a dog, which Carlson takes out and shoots. As a swamper who cleans the living quarters of the ranch, he is denied the normal, masculine camaraderie of the heavy duty bucking of barley. He apparently has no family he feels he can go and live with in his old age.
Candy’s loneliness is reflected in his eagerness to gossip to newcomers George and Lennie when they arrive on the ranch, and is ready and willing to embrace and fund the dream George shares with Lennie. He enjoys George’s fantasy that he can ‘hoe in the garden even after [he] ain’t no good at it.’ (P88) but has a clear understanding that he will no longer be needed on the ranch soon. Steinbeck uses the metaphor of Candy’s dog to show that time is rapidly running out for him and that the boss will ‘can’ him just as soon as his use becomes unwelcome. Candy laments, ‘You seen what they done to my dog tonight? They say he wasn’t no good to himself nor nobody else. When they can me here I wisht somebody’d shoot me. But they won’t do nothing like that. I won’t have no place to go’. (P. 88) This evokes a feeling of pity and sadness in the reader, as Candy would rather end his suffering than continue his lonely and isolated existence. However, this feeling changes ever-so-slightly when his loneliness is matched by his bitter disappointment and anger when he finds Curley’s wife dead, and realises that now the dream will never come true. However, if one considers the cultural context of the time, as well as how tough and solitary his life is, we could perhaps forgive his lack of sympathy over the death of a ‘tart’ he believes has shattered his future.
Just like many characters in the novel, Steinbeck introduces Crooks from the perspective of other people before we meet him properly in section four. Characteristically, he is ‘aloof’ in his room, where he spends the majority of his time. Crooks is even lonelier than old Candy, due to him being a black, crippled man. He is entirely excluded from the bunk house, except for one occasion mentioned by Candy, when Smitty ‘took after him’ and ‘woulda killed the nigger’ if he was able to use his feet in the fight. (P. 41) In this brief introduction by Candy to George and Lennie, although repeatedly defined as a ‘nigger’, he is also classified as a ‘nice fella, too’, with ‘books in his room’, suggesting that this is one way Crooks stave off the loneliness he suffers as a result of his colour and ‘crooked back where a horse kicked him’ (P41).
Crooks is the only black character in the novel and is proud of the fact that he is not a ‘southern negro’ (P. 102), a reference to him having no recent family history of slavery. Nevertheless, if he was living in the southern states of Mississippi or Alabama, at least he would have much more of a black community around him. Here in Solidad, California, he does not suffer the obvious hatred and aggression of the South but he is very segregated and lonely. His one social outlet is playing horseshoes with the other workers, a game he seems to win a little respect for due to his prowess.
Crooks is a proud man, and it is this pride which makes him reject what he cannot have: Lennie’s friendship and a chance to share their dream of owning their own land. Therefore, when Lennie tries to befriend him at the beginning of section four, Crooks first tries to expel Lennie from his harness room, stating ‘You got no right to come in my room. This here’s my room. Nobody got any right in here but me’ (P. 99-101). Steinbeck’s repetition of the word ‘right’, highlights the fact that Crooks has very few civil rights on the ranch. Furthermore, he seems envious of Lennie’s close relationship with George, enough to torment the defenceless Lennie by suggesting that George has abandoned him forever and thus he will be left alone. Realising that he can state whatever he wishes to Lennie without anyone finding out, he confesses to him, ‘S’pose you couldn’t go in the bunk house and play rummy ‘cause you was black. How’d you like that? S’pose you had to sit out here an’ read books. Sure you could pay horseshoes till it got dark, but then you got to read books. Books ain’t no good. A guy needs somebody – to be near him’ (P. 105). This symbolises the shear isolation and seclusion suffered by Crooks, forcing the reader to empathise with his jealousy over Lennie and George’s friendship. The short pause created by the en dash after ‘needs somebody’ implies that Crooks realises he will always be lonesome, desperate for the need for human company.
The loneliness endured by Curley’s wife is different again from that of either Candy or Crooks, and perhaps the most pitiful for a modern reader. She is the only woman on the ranch; therefore she can only turn to her new husband or to other men on the ranch for company, but Curley is jealous and suspicious if other men give her any attention. Curley appears to objectify her, viewing her as one of his possessions. One could argue that it his own self-consciousness which leads him to believe she will be unfaithful. Furthermore, Curley’s aggressive nature means that most of the men will avoid his wife, for fear of losing their jobs. In addition to this, the men see her interest in their company as improper and call her ‘a tart’ and ‘a tramp’ (p. 50). As she states herself, ‘If I catch one guy, 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… You’re all scared of each other, that’s what’ (P. 110). It’s interesting to note that she just focuses on talking and nothing else, stressing how lonely she is in the company of her mean-minded and boring husband.
When she confides in Lennie, she again voices her dislike of Curley: ‘I don’t like Curley. He ain’t a nice fella’ (P. 125). The emphasis on like is one of the reasons modern readers feel most pity for her in the novel: some women of the 1930s were expected to marry someone they did not love, yet she is newly wedded to a man she does not even like. Furthermore, Curley’s ‘glove fulla Vaseline’ that ‘he’s keeping soft for his wife’ could represent the constant beatings she receives when he is mad.
Finally, her name also symbolises her loneliness and isolation from society. The fact that she remains nameless evokes a feeling of sorrow in the reader, as this represents the complete lack of power, freedom and identity she has in the novel.
Answer any of the following questions in the comments section below. In your response, try to include quotations, zoom in on the language used by Steinbeck, analyse the effect this creates in the reader, and try to link your ideas to the historical, social and cultural context of the novel.
- In your opinion, which character do you consider to be the most lonely? Think of at least three reasons for your answer.
- Who is especially lonely because of being ‘proud and aloof’? How does his character represent segregation in the 1930s?
- Do you think Curley’s wife’s deserved to be isolated, and even killed, for her relationships with other men?
- How is old age represented in the novel and how do the other characters feel about this?
- Why does Crooks victimise and bully Lennie in section four?
Any questions, please do not hesitate to ask.