Curley's Wife, in John Steinbeck's novella Of Mice and Men, is an example of how the reader's perception of a character can change without the character actually changing. We first hear about Curley's Wife when Candy describes her to George. Candy uses expressions such as "she got the eye" and goes on to describe her as looking at other men before eventually calling her a "tart." Through Candy's words, we develop an initial perception of Curley's Wife as flirtatious and even promiscuous.
This perception is further emphasized by Curley's Wife's first appearance in the novel. Steinbeck uses light symbolically to show that she can be imposing when he writes, "The rectangle of sunshine in the doorway was cut off." Her physical appearance of "full, rouged lips and wide-spaced eyes, heavily made- up", as well as painted fingernails and elaborate hair, further build on our preconceptions. She both talks and acts playfully and flirtatiously in front of the other ranch workers. Through her physical appearance and her own actions, Candy's description of Curley's Wife seems accurate after her first appearance in the text.
Our negative feelings toward Curley's Wife begin to change when she enters Crooks', a Negro worker, residence where Crooks is talking to Lennie and Candy. Curley's Wife enters asking for Curley. After icy responses from the men, she talks about her loneliness and desire to live her own life. She then begins to start verbally attacking the men and indicates her apathetic attitude towards Curly. After Crooks asks her to leave, she threatens him with lynching. As she leaves, Steinbeck metaphorically indicates the disruption and discomfort she causes using the event of horses stamping their feet. At this stage of the novel, we begin to feel sympathy for Curley's Wife who, lonely and bored, has ended up married to a man she doesn't love.
Our feelings for Curley's Wife have entirely changed by her finalscene. In the barn with Lennie, she tells him how lonely she gets and tells the tragic story of how she could have been an actress, but her dream was ended by marriage. She allows Lennie to touchher hair when he tells her about his likings for soft things. Ignorant of Lennie's idiosyncrasies, she is killed in a tragic accident when he refuses to let go of her and breaks her neck. Our feelings for Curley's Wife at this stage in the novel are entirely sympathetic.
Curley's Wife remains consistent throughout the text. However our opinions of her change. We first think of her as a tart and a flirt who refuses to by her husband's side. As we hear more of her own words we begin to feel a lot more sympathy for her. We are never told her name. To the men she is always the property of Curley and, because of this, should not stray from him. Her dreams were shattered by marriage and her relatively young life cut short by her desire for human contact. Steinbeck has created a character for us to feel sympathetic towards.