In this essay I will analyse how Steinbeck explores different attitudes to women in the novel “Of Mice and Men”. I will start by looking at the historical and social context, then I will show how the writer presents women in his work, and finally, I will present and analyse the male characters who have a defined opinion about women and explore their attitude. “Of Mice and Men” is set in the 1930s during the Great Depression, a period of economic recession that resulted in a huge separation between social classes.
Because of mass unemployment, many workers had to become ranch hands moving from place to place in search for work. Steinbeck sets his novel on a ranch near Salinas, California. He was personally familiar with ranch life as he was born in the Salinas Valley and worked on a farm himself. It is possible that some characters within the novel to be inspired from his experience. Steinbeck has made the ranch a micro representation of the society of that time.
This contains all the elements of the 1930s society: a male environment with a well established hierarchy on the farm, a single female character and a few other women about who we learned through the men. There were three stereotypes of women in the 1930s: the obedient wife and mother, the actress and the prostitute. The writer reveals all these stereotypes of women through his female characters in his novel.
The 1930s’ wife and mother stereotype is personified through four different characters: Curley’s wife – the promiscuous wife, George’s girl – the perfect wife, Aunt Clara – the good mother and Curley’s wife’s mother – the controlling mother. Curley’s wife, the only female character that plays a real role in the novel, is the perfect example of the early 20th century wife. Steinbeck shows her as having limited roles on the ranch and being Curley’s possession. She has not given a name.
She is known as “Curley’s wife” being presented as belonging to her husband without having an identity on her own. During the Great Depression, husbands treated their wives with little respect and women’s main role was to cook, clean the house and raise the children. Curley’s wife wears a “cotton house dress” and her hair is lung in “little rolled clusters, like sausages” (page 34). This suggests that her place is in the kitchen, not in the bunkhouse where she bursts frequently. Anyway, she is never seen outdoor only in the bunkhouse and in the barn.