Eternal prep-schooler Leighton Meester has written an excellent term paper for The Huffington Post about John Steinbeck’s subversive feminism in Of Mice and Men. Meester is currently playing the part of Curley’s wife in her high school’s production on Broadway.
But in dissecting this piece for five months now, I’ve found that within the writing, there is both a lack of reason to truly hate this woman, and the inevitable and undeniable urge to do so … If this woman is purely a victim, why is she so hated? And if she is truly harmless, why is she so threatening? Without question, it was a commentary on the social climate at the time, which still surprisingly applies today. But if sexism is one of the featured themes, why not say it? Crooks, a character who is forced to live in the barn and away from the other men, says that it’s “because I’m black. They play cards in there but I can’t play cus I’m black.” As clear as day, the color of his skin is the reason for segregation. A modern audience cringes and immediately identifies. Such an explanation is never given as to why Curley’s wife is shunned.
But why is Curley’s wife’s presence so disturbing? And why does the audience agree? It’s the subconscious and inflammatory nature of Steinbeck’s writing that makes the viewer join in on the bashing of this woman, punish her existence, snicker at her mishaps. The genius and relevancy behind Steinbeck’s mission in writing this piece is that, to this day, it forces you to see yourself, to expose the depth of your own intolerance, prejudice, cruelty, and naiveté …
Throughout this run I’ve come to recognize these common reactions, and eventually understand them without resentment. Yet somehow, each time I enter the stage, as I’m faced with the audience who laughs or sneers, I’m struck with the loneliness that I can only imagine a woman like Curley’s wife must feel — the desperation for conversation, respect, and above all, dignity. Each time, I’m caught off-guard when I lose it.
Excellent job, Leighton! Way to “read between the lines,” and commendable bravery on selecting a difficult argument. And extra credit for involving extra-curricular work in your research! It’s been a joy to have you in summer school this year. So much good luck to you in the fall. Keep up the good work.