“To know Curley’s Wife would be to love her…” A response

Driven by a feeling that students tend to take Curley’s Wife at facevalue, even when encouraged to think beyond the obvious, I recently set an essay based on this quotation by John Steinbeck. The PowerPoint attached seeks to address the whole quotation as a means of engaging consideration of a wider perspective on Steinbeck’s (and my) favourite character in the novella Of Mice and Men.

I hope to have time to deliver this PPt as a short revision lecture and will post a sound file if I get that chance.


Re-reading today I noticed something that had passed me by on my innumerable visits to the well:In her disclosure to Lennie about her “dream” – the “pitchers”, have you noticed what it is that attracts CW to that life? ” Could’ve been in the movies an’ had nice clothes…” “all them nice clothes like they wear” is repeated twice following this comment.  There you have it – the real reason for the clothing so carefully delineated by Steinbeck.  This little girl (Candy “…go along an’ roll your hoop”) simply wants to dress up prettily.

Funny what you notice when you read!

Getting to know Curley’s wife

A screencast for further discussion:

A screencast for further discussion:Curley’s wife screencast from You Tube



Filed under EDEXCEL CERTIFICATE, EDEXCEL CERTIFICATE, GCSE support, IGCSE support, podcast for english revision

4 responses to ““To know Curley’s Wife would be to love her…” A response

  1. Reblogged this on miss, the dog ate my homework and commented:
    Guys. Have a look at this great blog post. Don’t any of you dare offer the simple interpretation of Curley’s wife as a simply a tart – it’s not good enough. Consider why Steinbeck creates and develop the character in the way he does.

    Miss O

  2. Pingback: “To know Curley’s Wife would be to love her…” A response | English teaching resources

  3. I find study and discussion of this letter from John Steinbeck helps them to see beyond the tart facade,

    A letter to an actress (Claire Luce), playing the part of Curley’s wife.

    To Claire Luce
    Los Gatos [1938]

    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 marvelously. 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 anyone but she was never able to carry out what she learned. A natural trustfulness broke through constantly and every time it did, she got her. 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 to be hard to cover her fright. And automatically she became hardest when she was most frightened. She is a night, kind girl, 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 misinformation girls tell one another. If anyone–a man or 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 a 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 could 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.

    John Steinbeck

    • Fabulous. I have read that Steinbeck loved her like no other character in the book and was responding in my piece to the oversimplified readings often encountered. What fascinates me here is the enormous back story developed by Steinbeck to explain the character. That in itself makes this a valuable tool when students are reluctant to plan their creative writing – there’s a whole book here waiting to be written. And she still has no name!

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