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CURLEY'S WIFE: Why No Name?
Monty J Heying Monty J (last edited Nov 20, 2013 04:44PM ) Jul 28, 2012 05:52PM
So, what's with the missing name?

Much attention has been drawn to the missing name of Curley's wife in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. Some say it is the author's sexist manner of showing her as an item of property, Curley's arm candy. Others suggest it is merely a way of emphasizing her connection with her husband, adding drama because of his volatile temperament.

While I acknowledge the added drama, I see no proof of sexist implication and attribute no other thematic or plot significance to the missing name . Her lack of a name is simply rooted in realism. It's the way workers refer to married women whose name they don't know. How would you expect them to refer to her--"that woman with the curly blonde hair?" The world of post-feminist literary criticism has swarmed all over the absence of a name for Curley's wife, but it's a red herring. I suspect Steinbeck modeled the story after some experience he had working on or around a ranch or farm.

After reading most of his works, his letters, many articles of literary analysis and the Benson biography, I'd put sexist way down any list of adjectives describing John Steinbeck. On the contrary, he was an early feminist. It's a waste of energy to interpret a work of classic literature by current norms and values.

In my research I've found nothing to indicate that her lack of a name meant anything significant. If Steinbeck wanted to make it an issue it would have come up at least once in an interview or in his correspondence. What would be the point of emphasizing her as Curley's property? How would such an emphasis fit thematically or from a plot angle? Women's rights would be a digression, a distraction.

I worked on a ranch for over five years. Naming conventions can be tricky for members of the ownership clan. If Curley wanted to be called Curley and refused to be called "Mister Jones" or whatever, what option did it leave for the men but to label her as "Curley's wife," unless someone in management provided an alternative? "Curley's wife" certainly carries more respect than "that woman" or "the girl."

Remember, Curley's wife had only been on site for two weeks, and visible to the workers probably even less time. I was up to Curley to introduce his wife to the men, but his social skills weren't exactly stellar. Apparently he had not done so. His motive could have been sexist, but the text provides no such evidence.

In the 1930s life was a good deal more formal than today. Maybe Curley wanted to discourage contact with the field workers. She had no business being around them nor they her. Not introducing her would be a way of enforcing social distance, preserving the elevated status of those in the ownership ranks.

Curley refers to her as "my wife," discouraging familiarity. Even if the men knew her name, maybe they men didn't dare use it for fear of offending her hotheaded husband; so they played it safe.

Maybe the men didn't even know Curley's last name. Given Curley's lack of social refinement it is entirely believable that he would have not introduced his wife to the men. In such a case, and absent a last name for Curley, the men were left with "Curley's wife" as the obvious reference.

Denying Curley's wife a name could be a way of emphasizing how she's universally mistrusted among the workers. She has not a kind word for anyone but the puppy she calls a "mutt" and is vicious toward Crooks, Candy and Lennie (the "weak ones" in her words.) And she had not the least sympathy for her newlywed husband after he was severely injured. She mocked him for it and flirted with Lennie in the same breath.

Ironically, an effect of not giving her a proper name is that it draws reader attention to her. Many characters in the book are referred to by description. Curley is "the boss's son."; Slim is a "jerkline skinner."; Candy is "the swamper."; Crooks is "the stable buck." But it's the un-named wife who makes things happen and commands attention on all sides, readers included.

In my research I've found nothing to indicate that her lack of a name meant anything significant. If Steinbeck wanted to make it an issue it would have come up at least once in an interview or in his correspondence. Besides, what would be the point of emphasizing her as Curley's property? How would such an emphasis fit thematically or from a plot angle? It doesn't. Women's rights would be a digression, a distraction.

Women's rights are very important to modern readers, but in the Depression era people were much more concerned about jobs and feeding themselves.

People are trying to overlay today's urban values onto an agrarian culture more than half a century old. If Steinbeck was making a feminist point by withholding her name, he'd have mentioned that at least once, either in an interview or in his correspondence, neither of which has been brought to light.

It would have been uncharacteristic of Steinbeck, if he were taking a feminist position, not to step up and take credit for it. From the very beginning he has shown in his works no shyness in confronting sensitive social issues, e.g., workers rights, socialism, bigotry and class warfare against the powerless. If he meant something by it he would have made it abundantly clear.

If women's rights were an issue at the time, at least one journalist or critic would have raised it. None did that I have found, nor did Steinbeck's biographers. It was the Depression, and people were too worried about survivial to worry about women's rights. The book came out in 1937. The stage version came out later that year, and the film in '39. With all that coverage, nobody mentioned the topic of women's rights in connection with Of Mice and Men. Even today there's no mention in Wikipedia of the subject in conjunction with the novel.

If Steinbeck omitted her name to portray Curley's wife as a subject of sexism, he'd have used the technique elsewhere as well. A tool is a tool; he would have used it more than once. But nowhere, in this or any of his novels or short stories that I have read, is the omission of a character's name used to establish victimhood, of sexism or any other prejudice. It would be a cheap trick at any rate, beneath the dignity of a writer of Steinbeck's stature.

Just because there's a gathering of men doesn't mean that sexism is ground into the wood grain of every piece of furniture. Let's put the feminist ideology back on the shelf and open a bottle of clear-headed literary thinking.



I believe that she was given no name to emphasis the fact of her being Curley's property. I think it was a work of genius on Steinbeck's part. Curley's wife hated the idea of being property, of belonging to someone, but she did. It was a twist of sad irony that made Curley's wife all the more interesting.


I think Curly's wife didn't have a name because her opinion wasn't important to the ranch. She was a nobody therefore Steinbeck treated her like a nobody. Most people interpreted out of Steinbeck's book that curly's wife was nothing more then the daily ranch tramp, but there isn't any evidence, that's just a biased assumption made by the readers. What we do see is that Curly was a jealous husband.

In grade school my teacher asked the class if we though Curly's wife deserve any respect in the ranch, most students said no that she was a bad wife. But No one ever judge Curly as a husband. Curly was a far worse husband. Curly's wife didn't have the option whenever or not she wanted to be with Curly. she was just a lost girl who entered adult age to quick, in a time when woman didn't have choices.

In the ranch she was left to be on her own, she couldn't make friends with anyone there because they were all men, and curly would go donkey on her. For example, Slims character accepted Curly's wife as a woman at the ranch, he never messed with her, but he didn't called her any names, and he did small talk with her whenever she was present. But Curly as unusual showed jealousy. So the actual question is, who was the actual victim. Curly who had a tramp of a wife? or Curly's wife who never had a chance to speak?


yes, she is Curly's property. it emphasizes the sexism and Curly's insecurity.


i don't understand this antagonist title. she didn't wannt lennie to kill her, she didn't know their situation, she didn't know he'd had previous issues like this. she was lonely and the only man who wasn't scared to speak to her she loathed. the only way anyone would risk talking to her was if she flashed some thigh. she wasn't some slag, she was desperate for human contact, the fact that the entire ranch was male-only is a coincidence, not some implication that she needs male attention.


Don't know if this has any bearing on this discussion but in the bible Lot's wife is never named, but she is turned into a pillar of salt. Trick question would be what is the name of Lot's wife, because it is never mentioned.


Elle (last edited Dec 28, 2013 03:51PM ) Dec 28, 2013 03:47PM   0 votes
Curley's Wife was called just that because it showed that she was Curley's property and that women held no respect from anyone. Men disregarded their opinion on any matters past what dresses they wanted to order. Her lack of name also shows how she was treated as property. The apostrophe s is commonly used to designate ownership of something or, in this case, someone.


I think it's pretty clear from the article that sexism wasn't the focus of why Steinbeck opted to omit her name. For those not convinced, here's some slightly more objective evidence: if Steinbeck wanted to address sexism, wouldn't he have used all of his female characters to indicate this? Aunt Clara, Lennie's aunt, is named. If Steinbeck wanted to address sexism, wouldn't it have been imperative not to name Clara as well? Perhaps, some more evidence: Curley's wife isn't portrayed as property in any way other than by the fact that she is not named (which is arguable at best). Sure, there are indications of negligence and perhaps abuse, but she certainly does not act as property when she is on the ranch. For example, she flirts with some of the men, sometimes even in front of Curley, something that is clearly out of character for "property".

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Bill Sorice I read this novel to students for many years. I think the fact she has no name, the reader feels immediate sorrow for Lennie when he kills her. Easier ...more
Jan 18, 2014 07:07AM

You sound like a smart guy.(You probably are) I still have a opinion and it's a bit different. That's the cool thing about literature, people interpret it differently.


When I read it in school, my class always called her "Dot" (Dirty Old Tramp).


I think Curley's wife being nameless is a powerful cliché to emphasize the actual importance of how we all generalize. It's unimportance makes it important...profound?


In my opinion it was firstly because to show that men dominated the world in those days and when you got married you basically belonged to that man and I also feel it was because women weren't as important as men and to show this fact of life in those days Steinbeck was basically saying she didn't need a name because women didn't matter as much they were merely seen as objects... but honestly that's just how I saw it


That was a long beginning bit to let us know that you don't understand (or are not willing to understand) the many different reasons why she might not have a name.

If you were in an A level English lit class you'd be criticized for being closed minded and unimaginative.


In addition to her being "property" and not a person, it needs to be added that she's the lone female in a very male environment. As we all know if there's one woman around, all the men go crazy for her; who she is doesn't matter.


I believe she represented an idea/item, loosely. She was given no name because she was insignificant as a character, yet she existed as catalyst. Does this make any sense (Sorry, it's almost 3 a.m. now!)? Any character traits (physical, etc;) were unimportant.


my english teacher told us it was so that any female could be projected onto her, she was supposed to represent the role of all women of her time.

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Monty J Heying That's one of the more insightful comments I've come across on the topic.

I think all the characters in the book take on an archetypal element, but es
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Jan 09, 2014 10:21AM

I think she remained nameless and had a complex back-story but simple interactions to create interest and intrigue. I believe Steinbeck wanted her to be one of the most considered characters in the story. She wasn't a main character but definitely one of the most pivotal. Her actions and reactions steered the majority of the plot.

As a plot device it also allowed us to remember that she would not have been considered on an equal footing with the men. She would have been part of the house and furniture. ‘This is my house, this is my wife’. Her glass ceiling was very low, and by not giving her a name she drew attention to the fact keeping her in the forefront of the readers mind, whether through disgust of her behaviour of sympathy for her having to use only what she had to gain attention and be interacted with.

Whenever this book is considered, she is one of the most discussed characters. I don’t think that is an coincidence.


I did this for novel study this year. Our class came to the conclusion that it was to emphasize the role of women in that era. They didnt belong on ranches, they shouldnt talk/flirt with other men, etc. Throughout the novel he continues to let the stereotypes show with the women, like mentioning the brothel and when Lennie's aunt (or whoever she was) is described shes described in the typical Aunt/mother way- rosey cheeks, wearing an apron, etc.


I recently explored this issue in my 'Of Mice & Men' GCSE exam. 'Of Mice & Men' has a strong theme of misogyny, and this is emphasised by the fact that there are very few female characters, and these are often presented in a negative/derogatory light. For example, other female characters mentioned in the novella include the prostitutes at Susy's place, and Curley's wife's mother, who is described to be quite bitter in my opinion.

I believe that Curley's wife was not given a name by Steinbeck because of her insignificant existence from the perspective of the men on the ranch. From her description of her shattered dreams of becoming an actress, I gathered that she is just another victim of the 'American dream'. She is just another 'dreamer' who wasn't able to prove herself, and has therefore disappeared into the background of a highly patriarchal society.

However, I was shocked about how much sympathy I had for her shortly before her death in the novella. It is easy to establish her character as a lascivious individual, but by the end of the novella, I decided that it is both her unhappy marriage and shattered dreams that has caused her somewhat controversial behaviour. In addition to this, I gathered that her 'nameless' character is due to the fact that she has failed to prove herself, linking back again to the American dream.

Sorry if this description is a little juvenile, but I'm only a teenager.


i read this book for an English assignment and my teacher explained that the author did not give Curly's wife a name, for it to show us how un important she really is. In the whole book she is looked upon like a whore because she always "looking" at the guys, so for everyone in the ranch/ farm she is not really important therefore she was not given a name.


She was a foil, an Eve, a Salome, a stereotypical temptress and downfall of men. The only time she was given any dimension, was just prior to her murder, when she was empathic with Lennie.
She was also a trigger,or at least her death was, that enabled Curley to "legitimately" act on his humiliation by Lennie.


She was given the name so the reader would think of Curley every time she was there, everyone would remember that she chose to marry Curley and she really deserved this life.


Archetypes are not stereotypes, Fiona, so your criticism about his being a misogynist is false.


We had to write a bunch of essays about her in school. We all came to the conclusion that although Steinbeck wasn't trying to make a point about women's rights, he used her to represent the role of women in society. The fact that she wasn't given a name shows how as a wife she was a possesion, as even the whores in the books were given names. Calling her Curley's wife uses the same possesive apostraphe as in Candy's dog.


She has no name, not only because she belongs to Curley but because she is an archetype. An early feminist? Steinbeck is one of the world's most misogynistic writers. Women are always archetypes, not people. Ma Joad is the Earth mother, we have the dream-killing wives, the prostitutes with hearts of gold…and they are the only honest women,a according to Steinbeck. The most archetypal is Curley's wife. She is the temptress, the Delilah, the Jezebel, Kali the Destroyer. The ruiner of men. "I never seen no piece of jailbait worse than her" says George. When she walks, it is silently, like an evil spirit: horses are unsettled when she passes by. She is always associated with the colour red, nails, lipstick, rouge and red mules with ostrich feathers, the bedizenment of the harlot, but she is more than just a harlot, she is an evil force, which can't be resisted. "I don't like this place…this ain't no good place" says Lenny. As the one who is slow, he is sensitive to unseen forces.


Jocii (last edited Aug 29, 2012 02:25PM ) Aug 29, 2012 02:25PM   0 votes
I agree with everyone else, she was given no name to show that she was property, and not a person.


Curley's wife wasn't given a name because it would create a relationship with the reader. If Curley's wife was given the name "Christina," for an example, it would remind me of my sweet teacher in the 1st grade. This way Curley's wife is portrayed more as an object.


I wrote a paper about Curley's wife in high school.
I think that a name wasn't important for her. Besides she was kind of.. a problem. With out Curley's wife most of what happened probably wouldn't have happened or would have happened way later on. I think by not giving her a name she seems unimportant to the reader. We don't really care about her much, and so we don't really think that she was a big cause of what happened, when in fact she sort of set things in motion and caused lots of problems.


It's show that she was a woman and didn't hold enough importance.


It was meant to I think show the inherit sexism and patriarchy of this time. She's not a woman, an individual with hopes, fears, dreams and ideas like everyone else. She's Curley's wife, Curly's property, a commodity for a man.


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