To celebrate the release of our new QuickLits Guide to Of Mice and Men, this week’s Quote of the Week is taken from that very novel and focuses on one of the most controversial characters, Curley’s Wife:
“She had full, rouged lips and wide-spaced eyes, heavily made up. Her fingernails were red.”
To help us better understand this quote, let’s put it into some context. Firstly, we know that it comes from Chapter Two and, secondly, it provides the reader with an introduction to Curley’s Wife.
Now we’ve got the context, let’s look more closely at Steinbeck’s words. First of all, what’s really striking about this quote is the way that Curley’s Wife appears. Considering she lives on a ranch, we would expect Curley’s Wife to wear more modest, practical clothes, but we actually find the very opposite: she is wandering around looking more like a Hollywood film star than someone who lives on a hot, dusty ranch in California.
What does this tell us about Curley’s Wife?
Well, for a start, it suggests that she is very concerned about her appearance – maybe even to the point of vanity. But what’s really important is the fact that everything she is wearing is RED. Red fingernails, red cheeks, red lips. Why is red important? Because red is colour that is associated with love, sexuality and DANGER. Steinbeck is literally waving a red flag in front of her, warning George and Lennie (and the reader) that Curley’s Wife poses danger.
Why would Steinbeck link Curley’s Wife to danger?
Well, take a look at the events of Chapter Five. In this chapter, Lennie accidentally kills her. By doing thus, Lennie doesn’t only put his own life in danger, he also shatters the dream of ever owning a ranch with George. Steinbeck is, therefore, foreshadowing these dangers by associating Curley’s Wife with the colour red (and danger).
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For more in-depth Of Mice and Men quotes, please check out our study guide here.