Throughout history, many societies have used false notions of male supremacy to make decisions, leading to the oppression of women. Many artists and writers have expressed their views on sexism in their works using female characters and displaying the hardships they face within their society. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck, follows the journey of George and Lennie, who have found work in a ranch in Soledad. Looking through Steinbeck's novel, a sexist world can be found that criticizes our society in the sexualization of Curley’s wife, the inability of Curley’s wife to speak for herself, and the lack of respect given to her.
In the novel, Curley’s wife constantly seeks companionship, but others only see her as a sexual object. When Curley’s wife is first introduced, George says, “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”(Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men 32). This clearly demonstrates how Curley’s wife has no control over the sexualized manner in which other people see her. Despite everything she does, her appearance is seen as her defining trait. Steinbeck writes in his letter, “She is not highly sexed but knows instinctively that if she is to be noticed at all, it will be because someone finds her sexually attractive”(Steinbeck, “letter”). It can be inferred that Curley’s wife was not looking for sex, but instead for a companion at the ranch. However, the men never see her as a friend, but rather as a sexual object. The novel shows how this objectification leaves Curley’s wife very lonely. The author uses this consequence of a sexist world to criticize sexism.
Secondly, the author shows how Curley's wife has a lack of control of her own life which shows how the power dynamics work. Curley does not trust his wife and is always looking for her. When speaking of Curley’s relationship with his wife, Whit says, “An’ Curley’s pants is just crawlin’ with ants, but they ain’t nothing come out of it yet”(Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men 51). This suggests that Curley feels responsible to control and monitor all of his wife’s actions. He clearly believes that he has better judgment than his wife to make decisions for her. Curley’s wife also has a lack of control after she dies. Candy, venting his frustration, yells at her dead body, “You God damn tramp...You done it, di’n’t you?....You wasn’t no good. You ain’t no good now you lousy tart”(Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men 95). Steinbeck uses the silence of the dead body to show how women are not able to stand up for themselves in this society. Women are expected to be submissive to the standards of the patriarchal society they live in. Steinbeck’s portrayal of this world exposes the evil of sexism. It shows how women should be able to stand up for themselves and defend themselves.
Finally, Steinbeck shows his feminist views through the lack of respect given to Curley’s wife in the novel. She is compared to a dog in the novel, but while people protested to the death of Lulu, “complaints can rarely be heard during Curley’s wife’s death”(Meester, “article” 3). This depicts the cruel and inhumane society formed on the basis of sexism. The men don’t even think of Curley’s wife as a human. They constantly show a lack of decency and respect for someone who has done no wrong against them. Describing Curley’s wife, Steinbeck writes, “If you could ever break down a thousand little defenses she has built up, you would find a nice person, an honest person, and you would end up by loving her(Steinbeck, “letter”). These men disrespect Curley’s wife even though they do not even know who she is. The novel portrays this injustice as a crime of ignorance which is caused by their sexism. Steinbeck clearly portrays the issues with society, especially one that is male dominant.
Steinbeck’s novel portrays his feminist views through the struggles and abuses Curley’s wife faces. These same struggles can still be found today as women are often seen as sexual objects. People often do not show the same level of respect for men and women equally. Steinbeck’s novel challenges these ideas and shows readers that sexism negatively affects our society, and it can lead to our downfall.
Meester, Leighton. “I’m Not a Tart: The Feminist Subtext of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men”. New York Times.
Sep. 14, 2014: 1-3.
Steinbeck, John. Letter to Claire Luce.
Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men.
Penguin Books. New York:1993.