Curley’s wife Of Mice and Men is not kind in its portrayal of women. In fact, women are treated with contempt throughout the course of the novel. Steinbeck generally depicts women as troublemakers who bring ruin on men and drive them mad. Curley’s wife, who walks the ranch as a temptress, seems to be a prime example of this destructive tendency—Curley’s already bad temper has only worsened since their wedding. Aside from wearisome wives, Of Mice and Menoffers limited, rather misogynistic, descriptions of women who are either dead maternal figures or prostitutes.
Despite Steinbeck’s rendering, Curley’s wife emerges as a relatively complex and interesting character. Although her purpose is rather simple in the novel’s opening pages—she is the “tramp,” “tart,” and “bitch” that threatens to destroy male happiness and longevity—her appearances later in the novel become more complex. When she confronts Lennie, Candy, and Crooks in the stable, she admits to feeling a kind of shameless dissatisfaction with her life. Her vulnerability at this moment and later—when she admits to Lennie her dream of becoming a movie star—makes her utterly human and much more interesting than the stereotypical vixen in fancy red shoes. However, it also reinforces the novel’s grim worldview. In her moment of greatest vulnerability, Curley’s wife seeks out even greater weaknesses in others, preying upon Lennie’s mental handicap, Candy’s debilitating age, and the colour of Crooks’s skin in order to steel herself against harm.
Crooks Crooks is a lively, sharp-witted, black stable-hand, who takes his name from his crooked back. Like most of the characters in the novel, he admits that he is extremely lonely. When Lennie visits him in his room, his reaction reveals this fact. At first, he turns Lennie away, hoping to prove a point that if he, as a black man, is not allowed in white men’s houses, then whites are not allowed in his, but his desire for company ultimately wins out and he invites Lennie to sit with him. Like Curley’s wife, Crooks is a disempowered character who turns his vulnerability into a weapon to attack those who are even weaker. He plays a cruel game with Lennie, suggesting to him that George is gone for good. Only when Lennie threatens him with physical violence does he relent. Crooks exhibits the corrosive effects that loneliness can have on a person; his character evokes sympathy as the origins of his cruel behaviour are made evident.