Getting to Know Curley’s Wife
by Stephanie Gronholz, Iver C. Ranum High School, Boulder, Colorado & Karen Coyle Aylward, Brighton High School, Boston, Massachusetts, 2007
- Students will be able to write reactions to and opinions of the character of Curley’s wife.
- Students will be able to discuss their opinions of Curley’s wife with their peers and carefully listen to and record their peers’ opinions as well.
- Students will be able to analyze selected passages of the text to draw conclusions about the author’s opinion of Curley’s wife.
- Students will be able to revise their ideas of Steinbeck’s intentions, if necessary, when presented with other sources of information (a letter from Steinbeck).
Students will examine Curley’s wife through a dialogic approach, evaluating and examining different perspectives on her character. Students will also look carefully at a primary source, non-fiction text—a letter written from John Steinbeck to Claire Luce, the actress who played Curley’s wife on Broadway in 1938.
- After chapter five or after the book is finished, provide students with the attached graphic organizer.
- Ask students to complete the first box independently. They should reflect on Curley’s wife and write down their opinions of and reaction to her.
- In groups of 3-4, students should share and discuss their opinions and reactions. In the second box of the graphic organizer, students should record one or more of their peers’ opinions. This will hold students accountable for listening to one another and for reflecting on others’ opinions.
- After groups have completed the first two boxes, provide the students with the attached sheet of quotes from Of Mice and Men to reflect on Steinbeck’s opinion of Curley’s wife. Students should analyze each quote on the handout. Then, students should summarize their conclusions in the third box of the graphic organizer.
- Once students have completed the third box, reconvene as a whole class and provide students with Steinbeck’s letter to Claire Luce (Life in Letters p.144). Explain to students that Steinbeck wrote this letter to help Ms. Luce with her interpretation of Curley’s wife on Broadway. Read the letter together and discuss any questions students have as a class.
- After students have read and understand the letter, have students return to their groups to discuss the letter and to summarize Steinbeck’s intentions when portraying Curley’s wife in their fourth box.
- After completing all four boxes, students should complete the final box on the bottom of the paper where they will reflect on how their thinking about Curley’s wife may have changed based on all of the perspectives they have experienced.
Our rationale for this lesson plan was to provide students with a variety of perspectives on Curley’s wife to help them to question, challenge, and enhance their views of her character. We have found many students only see Curley’s wife through the eyes of the men on the ranch, as a “tart”. After looking closely at the text and after reading Steinbeck’s letter, we would hope that students would consider many more dimensions of her character.
Students could use this as a pre-writing activity for an analytical essay focusing on characterization. Teachers may also choose to show the 1993 version and/or the 1939 movie version of Of Mice and Men to provide students with more perspectives and interpretations of Curley’s wife.
Teachers may choose to vary groupings based on students’ needs and levels. Teachers may also choose to have students work in pairs or to do the discussion of the fourth box as a whole class if students need more help analyzing the text.
References and Attachments
Selections from Of Mice and Men
(pagination based on the Penguin Edition)
Write your own reactions to each passage below. How did you analyze the passage in your group discussion? How does that analysis lead you to an opinion about what John Steinbeck thinks about Curley’s wife?
A girl was standing there looking in. She had full, rouged lips and wide-spaced eyes, heavily made up. Her fingernails were red. Her hair hung in little rolled clusters, like sausages. She wore a cotton house dress and red mules, on the insteps of which were little bouquets of red ostrich feathers. “I’m lookin’ for Curley,” she said. Her voice had a nasal, brittle quality. (31)
“Don’t you even take a look at that bitch. I don’t care what she says and what she does. I seen ‘em poison before, but I never seen no piece of jail bait worse than her. You leave her be.” (32)
“…Ever’ tiem the guys is around she shows up. She’s lookin’ for Curley, or she thought she lef’ somethin’ layin’ around and she’s lookin’ for it. Seems like she can’t keep away from guys.” (51)
“If I catch one man, and he’s alone, I get along fine with him. But just let two of the guys get together an’ you won’t talk. Jus’ nothing but mad.” She dropped her fingers and put her hands on her hips. “You’re all scared of each other, that’s what. Ever’ one of you’s scared the rest is goin’ to get something on you.” (77)
“Sure I gotta husban’. You all seen him. Swell guy, ain’t he? Spends all his time sayin’ what he’s gonna do to guys he don’t like, and he don’t like nobody. Think I’m gonna stay in that two-by-four house and listen how Curley’s gonna lead with his left twict, and then bring in the ol’ right cross?” (78)
“…Whatta ya think I am, a kid? I tell ya I could of went with shows. Not jus’ one, neither. An’ a guy tol’ me he could put me in pitchers…” She was breathless with indignation. “—Sat’iday night. Ever’body out doin’ som’pin’. Ever’body! And what am I doin’? Standin’ here talkin’ to a bunch of bindle stiffs—a nigger an’ a dum-dum and a lousy ol’ sheep—an’ likin’ it because they ain’t nobody else.” (78)
She turned on him in scorn. “Listen, Nigger,” she said. “You know what I can do to you if you open your trap?”
Crooks stared hopelessly at her, and then he sat down on his bunk and drew into himself.
She closed in on him. “You know what I could do?”
Crooks seemed to grow smaller, and he pressed himself against the wall. “Yes, ma’am.” (80)
“I get lonely,” she said. “You can talk to people, but I can’t talk to nobody but Curley. Else he gets mad. How’d you like not to talk to anybody?” (87)
Curley’s wife lay with a half-covering of yellow hay. And the meanness and the plannings and the discontent and the ache for attention were all gone from her face. She was very pretty and simple, and her face was sweet and young. (93)