Curly's Three Wives

May 22, 2008
By erin roney, Plymouth, MI

Would the real Curley’s wife please stand up? Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck has been made into two movies. Each of which the reader, or viewer, is left with different viewpoints, especially of the characters. In particular I noticed a difference in the way Curley’s wife was portrayed. I feel that using my imagination based on details produced in the book helped me create a mental image which was not shown in either movie. Therefore I have enjoyed her more so in the original book.
Tall, long tightly wound blonde curls, delicate fragile body, soft spoken yet desperate for attention, finest dresses with matching heels, and a flirtatious smile all pop into my head as I read descriptions of Curley’s wife in Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck. This image came to mind as I read descriptions produced in the novella such as “…heavily made up …her hair hung in little rolled clusters like sausages...she wore a cotton house dress and red mules…with little bouquets of red ostrich feathers.”(31) Each of these descriptions helps to produce a mental image of a lovely girl who all the men would dream to marry. Even though she has just recently married Curley, who she doesn’t like as she often voices, she is still flirting with the other men on the ranch. As Whit says, “Keep your eyes open. You’ll see plenty. She ain’t concealing nothing.”(51) Even though she is very showy I can’t help but feel sorry for her as she is thrown in the dust and left lonely with no one to talk to. I feel the reason for her behavior is that she has no one to talk to and wants to be noticed. This portrayal keeps Curley’s wife as a nameless, interesting character who provides the story with beauty, sorrow, and drama.
In contrast to the book is the 1939 Of Mice and Men movie directed by Lewis Milestone. Curley’s wife, named May, is a lady of medium height, with short brown natural looking curls, nicely dressed in jewelry, cotton dresses, and heels, with an outgoing attitude. She doesn’t keep her thoughts and opinions to herself as she tells everyone she can about her hate for Curley and the farm life. She also talks back to Curley as he forbids her to associate with others, and retaliates by creating noise as Curley ignores her and chews in an animal like manner during dinner. Her sharp-tongue gives me a dislike for her and leads me to be satisfied with her life. This is because I feel she deserves ranch life and would never make it into the pictures or have any friends with her demanding and aggressive behavior. Therefore I do not appreciate how she has been presented in this film and wish she was shown as the fragile, lonely girl who you can feel sorry for in the book.
Finally, there is the 1992 film portrayal of Curley’s wife directed by Gary Sinise. She is again a lady of medium height yet much less attractive with long frizzy brown hair, house dresses, and a face free of make up. Unlike her hinting for attention as she does by showing off in the book, she demands it from who ever comes near her. While in the barn with George she confronts him and demands him to speak with her. Also, she shows a personality which in some ways combines both the book and 1939 film. These include her desperate search for someone to talk with followed by her yelling as she demands the company. She is also able to speak up to Curley when he tells her what she should and shouldn’t be doing. Some examples include who she should be talking to and also how she shouldn’t associate with others besides himself. The only problem I have with this movie is that it lacks the element of drama which surrounds her in the book. This is because she isn’t depicted as being showy and only as wanting others near her. I do feel sorry for in the film yet am distracted by her rather unattractive appearance which I hadn’t been expecting after finishing the book.
Although the movies were based on the book I do not feel that they translated the person of Curley’s wife very well. The book and the movies provide different views and takes on her character. As I have said, I enjoyed reading the book more than I enjoyed watching either of the movies. Attractive, demanding, or showy, Curley’s wife is based on John Steinbeck’s ideas, and in the end his description of Curley’s wife should be called the most accurate.

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