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CURLEY'S WIFE IN STEINBECK'S NOVEL OF MICE AND MEN
Transcript of CURLEY'S WIFE IN STEINBECK'S NOVEL OF MICE AND MEN
It’s an useful document as it gives a rare insight into Steinbeck’s view of this important character. Remember that Curley’s Wife was a very young woman - still a teenager – trapped by social circumstances that included a poor marriage, lack of opportunities, lack of education and most certainly by a prevailing patriarchal ideology that viewed women of this kind almost as a man’s ‘property’ to be kept firmly ‘in her place’.
Dear Miss Luce:
Annie Laurie says you are worried about your playing of the part of Curley’s wife although from the reviews it appears that you are playing it marvellously. I am deeply grateful to you and to the others in the cast for your feeling about the play. You have surely made it much more than it was by such a feeling.
About the girl – I don’t know of course what you think about her, but perhaps if I should tell you a little about her as I know her, it might clear your feeling about her.
She grew up in an atmosphere of fighting and suspicion. Quite early she learned that she must never trust any one but she was never able to carry out what she learned. A natural trustfulness broke through constantly and every time it did, she got hurt. Her moral training was most rigid. She was told over and over that she must remain a virgin because that was the only way she could get a husband. This was harped on so often that it became a fixation. It would have been impossible to seduce her. She had only that one thing to sell and she knew it.
Now, she was trained by threat not only at home but by other kids. And any show of fear or weakness brought an instant persecution. She learned she had to be hard to cover her fright. And automatically she became hardest when she was most frightened. She is a nice, kind girl and not a floozy. No man has ever considered her as anything except a girl to try to make. She has never talked to a man except in the sexual fencing conversation. She is not highly sexed particularly but knows instinctively that if she is to be noticed at all, it will be because some one finds her sexually desirable.
As to her actual sexual life – she has had none except with Curley and there has probably been no consummation there since Curley would not consider her gratification and would probably be suspicious if she had any. Consequently she is a little starved. She knows utterly nothing about sex except the mass of misinformation girls tell one another. If anyone – a man or a woman – ever gave her a break – treated her like a person – she would be a slave to that person. Her craving for contact is immense but she, with her background, is incapable of conceiving any contact without some sexual context. With all this – if you knew her, if you could ever break down the thousand little defences she has built up, you would find a nice person, an honest person, and you would end up by loving her. But such a thing can never happen.
I hope you won’t think I’m preaching. I’ve known this girl and I’m just trying to tell you what she is like. She is afraid of everyone in the world. You’ve known girls like that, haven’t you? You can see them in Central Park on a hot night. They travel in groups for protection. They pretend to be wise and hard and voluptuous.
I have a feeling that you know all this and that you are doing all this. Please forgive me if I seem to intrude on your job. I don’t intend to and I am only writing this because Annie Laurie said you wondered about the girl. It’s a devil of a hard part. I am very happy that you have it.