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Though the boss seems fair-minded, treating his men to whiskey at Christmas and giving Lennie and George the benefit of the doubt, he is an unimportant character. Instead, his son Curley embodies authority on the ranch. In the book’s vision of the world, Curley represents the vicious and belligerent way in which social power tends to manifest itself. Given Curley’s temperament, he serves as a natural foil—a character whose emotions or actions contrast with those of other characters—for both the gentle Lennie and the self-assured Slim. Whereas Curley is plagued by self-doubts that cause him to explode violently, Slim possesses a quiet competence that earns him the respect of everyone on the ranch. Like Curley, Slim stands as an authority figure. The men on the ranch look to him for advice, and, later, even Curley will deliver an uncharacteristic apology after wrongly accusing Slim of fooling around with his wife. Slim’s authority comes from his self-possession; he needs neither the approval nor the failure of others to confirm his stature. Curley’s strength, on the other hand, depends upon his ability to dominate and defeat those weaker than him.
George and Lennie immediately feel the threat that Curley’s presence poses. To avoid getting into trouble with Curley, they promise to stick even closer to each other than usual. Their friendship is rare and impressive. Slim, who wonders why more men don’t travel around together and theorizes that maybe it’s because everyone is scared of everyone else, appreciates the closeness of their friendship. In the novella as a whole, Steinbeck celebrates and romanticizes the bonds between men. The men in Of Mice and Men dominate the ranch and long, more than anything else, to live peaceful, untroubled lives in the company of other men. The only female character who has an active role in the book is Curley’s wife, who, significantly, Steinbeck never names, and identifies only in reference to her husband. Other female characters are mentioned in passing, but with the exception of the maternal Aunt Clara, who cared for Lennie before her death, they are invariably prostitutes or troublemakers.
Even with all of its concern for treating with dignity the lives of the socially disempowered, Of Mice and Men derogatorily assigns women only two lowly functions: caretakers of men, and sex objects. The novel altogether dismisses women from its vision of paradise, regardless of their place in the real world. Female sexuality is described as a trap laid to ensnare and ruin men. George and Lennie imagine themselves alone, without wives or women to complicate their vision of tending the land and raising rabbits. Much like a traditional, conservative Christian interpretation of the myth of man’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden, the novella presents women as a temptation leading to man’s fall from perfection.