Curley’s Wife and Mayella Ewell from the books Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird may seem like different characters at first, but share more commonalities than meets the eye. While one speaks at the trial of a black man and the other dies at the hands of a mentally handicapped man, these characters play essential roles in bringing about the authors’ purposes in addressing social standpoints. Both young ladies portray the objectifying and stereotyping of women through their physical appearances, isolation, and interactions with other characters.
Curley’s Wife plays the role of a woman who focuses almost entirely on her physical appearance, how unfair it is that she must remain cooped up all day, and how everybody simply views her as a tart. First off, the appearance of this character displays her as very child-like, as shown with “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 dress and red mules, on the insteps of which were little bouquets of red ostrich feathers” (Steinbeck, pg 31). Wearing excessive amounts of makeup certainly reminds the reader of how little girls often play with their mother’s makeup, covering themselves with it. As well as this, the clothing choices of Curley’s Wife also reflect her child-like qualities, making her appear to be much like a child’s doll toy. Her curled sausages of hair also seem reminiscent of the locks of an innocent little girl. Moving on to the position of isolation that Curley’s Wife finds herself in, “‘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?’” (Steinbeck, pg 87) paints a scene of Curley’s Wife showing some emotion to another character, Lennie. Due to being a married woman, Curley’s Wife, as per the standards of society, has limitations on what she can do with her time. Speaking with men other than her husband certainly does not abide with the rules laid out for her to follow. However, as she said, loneliness often overtakes Curley’s Wife, which explains her reasoning for visiting the bunkhouses to speak with other men. The basis of this dilemma can simply be accounted for by the isolation of becoming the wife of a working man. As such, Curley’s Wife can no longer have a good time with her life without being looked down upon. Lastly, discrimination of gender and self presentation also plays a role when “But Candy said excitedly, ‘We oughtta let ‘im get away. You don’t know that Curley. Curley gon’ta wanta get ‘im lynched. Curley’ll get ‘im killed.’” (Steinbeck, pg 94) takes place after Lennie accidentally ends the life of Curley’s Wife. Thanks to her flirtatious ways, Curley’s Wife became known as a tart. Needless to say, her value didn’t match that of any of the other characters. However, Lennie’s murder of her brings up the idea that, even though she had the flirty qualities of a tart and nobody liked her much, the blame for her murder still landed on Lennie. This incident shows that her position as the wife of Curley accounted for Lennie’s conviction of her murder. Henceforth, despite being a woman and a tart, Curley’s Wife stands superior to Lennie, entirely thanks to her position as the wife of Curley. A child-like appearance, the quality of being isolated, and only an aspect of marriage account for the entirety of Curley’s Wife, yet this character still brings forth social issues of discrimination from gender and behavior.
Mayella Ewell of To Kill a Mockingbird plays a very similar role to Curley’s Wife in terms of objectifying women, such as having certain physical characteristics that change the way other view her, being isolated from the rest of society, and interacting with other characters in ways that determine how she appears to other members of the story. Starting off with physical appearance, “Mayella stared at him and burst into tears. She covered her mouth with her hands and sobbed,” (Lee, pg 205) shows Mayella as child-like and weak. Although it would be natural to be anxious or nervous when on stand, the act of out-right crying makes Mayella appear to be a weak child. Much like Curley’s Wife, Mayella portrays herself as sensitive or weak, making her seem much like a young child with emotional qualities. Moving on to Mayella’s own personal form of social isolation, “Mayella looked as if she tried to keep clean, and I was reminded of the row of red geraniums in the Ewell yard,” (Lee, pg 204) refers to how Mayella tries to grow geraniums in order to seem more cleanly than her family. Throughout this novel, the fact that the Ewell family represents social outcasts sings out loud and clear. However, since Scout states that Mayella attempted to make herself look good, it can be inferred that although she may be isolated from the rest of society due to family and economic status, Mayella Ewell still tries very hard to fit in. Geraniums, a pretty red flower that grow fairly easily, fit in well with the same red tone of the lips and shoes of Curley’s Wife. Bringing up the ideas of social discrimination, “‘Guilty… guilty… guilty… guilty…’” (Lee, pg 241) refers to how Tom Robinson, a black man, “lost” in his trial. Despite being a dirty, child-like, and generally disliked social outcast, Mayella Ewell’s value outweighed that of Tom for the sole reasoning of her being white and him being black. This incident goes to show that, at the root of it all, Harper Lee managed to cram it into her masterpiece that racial discrimination will always outweigh social segregation. Much like how John Steinbeck imposed that Curley’s Wife’s position as the wife of the boss’s son held her above Lennie. A run-down, unliked white woman who behaves more like a child than not, Mayella Ewell certainly brings out the segregation and discrimination found within society.
Both of these ladies come from the masterpieces of John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men and Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird. Although these characters may have some subtle differences, it cannot be denied that each show their child-like habits and isolation from the rest of their community, yet play vital roles in laying out social implications of female objectifying and the stereotyping of women.