Portrayal of Women in Of Mice and Men

November 20, 2018
By JaneWang0115 BRONZE, Pleasanton, California
JaneWang0115 BRONZE, Pleasanton, California
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

Sexism has always been a problematic issue throughout history. Even nowadays, women are still treated with prejudice in society. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck tells about the lives of American workers during the Great Depression. In the novel, women are portrayed either as possessions, seductresses, or caretakers of men.

The objectification of women is illustrated through Curley’s wife. She is the only female character that appears frequently in the story. Despite her important role, she is nameless. The author refers to her as “Curley’s wife” the whole time, which this is intended to display how females are dependent on men and how they lack importance. A name signifies the identity of a person, and it makes one a complete and independent being. However, addressing her as only “Curley’s wife” strongly emphasizes that she is dependent on her husband. This juxtaposition of her character to her husband Curley’s, the ranch boss’s son, further delineates the lack of gender equality. Curley is described as a confrontational man who is possessive and suspicious of his wife. He often comes to the bunkhouse, searching for her and suspecting her of infidelity. This implies the fact that Curley he is extremely possessive of her. He considers his wife as nothing more than a property to own. Their relationship gives Curley’s wife no freedom. Despite of that, she is actually vulnerable and lonely in contrast to her abusive treatment from her confession to Lennie. Near the end of the novel, Curley’s wife confides to Lennie that she never liked Curley, “I don’t like Curly. He ain’t a nice fella” (84). The reason she married Curley is because that is her only way to get out of her confining home. Nevertheless, she regrets abandoning her dream of becoming a Hollywood actress and marrying Curley since he always mistreats her. She talks to Lennie, because she only wants a friend and wishes for someone to listen to her regrets and past aspirations that she can never pursue. Curley’s wife’s situation portrays the idea of how women must rely on men, and men are more powerful than them.

In addition the powerlessness of Curley’s wife’s status, the idea of male dominance is also conveyed through her ultimate death. Although both she and Lennie die in the novel, the latter’s death has more impact on the novel’s plot than the former’s. Lennie’s demise creates a more tragic and sorrowful mood, while Curley’s wife’s death serves only as a lead-in to his.

Not only are women considered as possessions within Of Mice and Men, they are also viewed as troublemakers and seductresses. The women in Weed, a farm where Lennie and George fled from because of Lennie’s misdemeanor, screamed and said that Lennie was about to rape her, even though he grabbed her red dress only because it caught his attention. Because of  the woman’s exaggerated reaction, Lennie received trouble, since she drew the attention of the mobs.

A further example of women as temptresses is Curley’s wife who often wanders around the bunkhouse in erotic outfit: “a cotton house dress and red mules, on the insteps of which where little bouquets of red ostrich feathers” (31). Here, the color red appears frequently on females in the novel, and it  strongly connotes ideas of danger and sexual attraction. In addition to her outfit, Curley’s wife also talks to workers in a suggestive manner at the bunkhouse which is the place where workers work at, “she [puts] her hands behind her back and [leans] against the door frame so that her body [is] thrown forward” (31). Curley’s wife always appears there to attract the workers’ attentions despite being a married woman. The male workers, in turn, often call her a “tart,” “tramp,” or “rattrap” because of her beauty and flirtatious demeanor. This derogatory language shows that she is viewed as a lure that would make men fall from perfection. All in all, both females—Curley’s wife and the women from Weed—cause troubles for Lennie. Because he’s disability, Lennie has a child-like mind and a grown-man’s body. His simple thinking does not sustain a development in sexual attraction; therefore, he frightens the woman in Weed and accidentally kills Curley’ wife. The two incidents strongly emphasize the negative impact females have on the main character. It is also clearly indicated that women are negative influence when George, Lennie’s friend who always tries to protect him, scolds Lennie fiercely when Lennie says Curley’s wife is pretty: “Don’t you even take a look at that bitch. I don’t care what she says and what she does. I seen ‘em poison before, but I never seen no piece of jail bait worse than her. You leave her be” (30). The act of George warning Lennie to stay away from Curley’s wife again suggests that women are viewed as flirtatious and troublesome creatures.

Despite of the negative portrayal of women by Curley’s wife, the only positive female figure, Aunt Clara, is seen serving as Lennie’s caretaker. Her mother-like figure is shown in Lennie’s flashback, “She wore thick bull’s-eye glasses and she wore a huge gingham apron with pockets, and she was starched and clean” (96). Even though Aunt Clara’s character is positively depicted, and she seems like a respectable woman, Steinbeck still creates a stereotypical description of how women are supposed to be involved in family duties and take care of men. In general, females are either whores or mother-like figures in the novel. The society expects nothing more than sex and family duties from them.

The portrayal of females by John Steinbeck makes people question if he is a misogynist since he depicts female in a stereotypical and belittling way in the book. However, in fact, Steinbeck is actually the opposite; his illustration of females is, instead, a satire of how women were treated during 1930s, during the Great Depression, a period in which the book was written. At that time, women were expected to stay at home to be housewives. Most of the viewpoints of female come from menial workers in the book, which they do not represent Steinbeck’s true opinion. Moreover, in The Pearl, another book by John Steinbeck, Juana is a loving and supporting woman. Her wisdom is shown when she attempted to throw the pearl back to the sea when her husband becomes obsessed with it. This further establishes the fact that Steinbeck does not consider women as negative and unimportant figures.

In summary, John Steinbeck portrayed females as insignificant temptations or caretakers in Of Mice and Man. However, it is a satire to the gender role during Great Depression rather than the perceived misogynist views of the author’s on women. Steinbeck successfully reflects the unfairness and prejudice faced by women in the society. By doing this, it is expressed that women can be much more meaningful than luring objects, and they can do much more than caretakers. Nowadays, women are indeed treated with more justice and rights compared to before, but there is still improvement for people to make.



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