Curley and Slim in Of Mice and Men

7 July 2016

‘Of Mice and Men’, written by John Steinbeck, is a novel set in 1930s California and tells the story of two migrant workers, George Milton and Lennie Small, who move from ranch to ranch looking for work during the Great Depression. This novel is set while George and Lennie are in a small working ranch in the Salinas Valley of northern California, and over a period of 3 days we are introduced to a variety of characters that also live on the ranch. This essay will show how Steinbeck develops and presents two of the minor characters; Curley, the boss’ son, and Slim, the jerkline skinner.

The introductory paragraphs of these two characters are interesting because they are highly contrasted. We are first introduced to Curley, “a thin, young man” on page 46. The use of the word “thin” (as opposed to Lennie’s opening description of being George’s “huge companion”) implies that he is delicate, fragile, weak, and the word “young” suggests he is brash, arrogant, and connotes naivety. Furthermore, Curley is immediately compared with his father, the boss of the ranch.

Curley and Slim in Of Mice and Men Essay Example

A few pages before, on page 41, we are introduced to the first description of the boss, in which it says “on his head was a soiled brown Stetson hat, and he wore high heeled boots and spurs to prove he was not a labouring man. ” Curley, “like the boss”, also wears high heeled boots. Steinbeck deliberately uses the word “prove” as it instantly demonstrates to the reader that Curley’s position in the ranch is extremely important to him – he wants everyone to know that he is the boss’ son; however he needs to show he holds power over the others, rather than naturally receiving this authority.

Steinbeck, in my opinion, has used imagery to try and show the connection the boss and his son have by them wearing the same shoes. This adds to the development of the character because from our first view of him we already see a man who wants to dominate and control. Candy says Curley “won’t ever get canned ‘cause his old man’s the boss”, which is a good example of social injustice and corruption – a theme that runs throughout ‘of Mice and Men.

’ Steinbeck is trying to show, through Curley, that even the people with a position of power and wealth can still lead the unhappiest of lives, and that these two things aren’t the main necessities of life. The first mention of Slim comes from Candy (otherwise known as ‘the swamper’), and not from the narrator, who says “Slim’s a jerkline skinner. Hell of a nice fella. Slim don’t need to wear no high heeled boots. ” Steinbeck therefore implies that Slim is of a higher authority than Curley, as he doesn’t need to “prove” his status by wearing high heeled boots, but gains it naturally.

This is a trait that, throughout the novella, Curley is clearly extremely envious of. As a reader you are persuaded towards a certain viewpoint by the other ranch members, and so before you have even met Slim you already see him as “God-like. ” Slim makes his first appearance on page 56, where it says “a tall man stood in the doorway. ” Steinbeck seems to use body size as an indicator of who holds the power in the ranch. Candy says Curley is “alla time picking scraps with big guys.

Kind of like he’s mad at ‘em because he ain’t a big guy” which demonstrates that Curley is constantly trying to appear bigger and tougher than he really is; he believes that the reason he doesn’t have the authority he should for being the boss’ son is because of his height. Slim, on the other hand, has naturally got a big build – another way that Steinbeck presents Slim as gaining authority without trying. Steinbeck goes on to describe Slim in a manner that no other character received.

Whereas with the other characters the focalizer seems to be perceived from a distance, with Slim it shifts into the perspective of almost a best friend; and the narrator uses compelling emotion to describe him affectionately. This change of perspective indicates to the reader that Slim is an important character in the novella, therefore foreshadowing the fact that he may play a major part in the future. Steinbeck says that Slim is the “prince of the ranch” and that he “moved with a majesty only achieved by royalty.

” Steinbeck’s deliberate use of the word “prince” instantly shows us that Slim is the usurper of Curley’s position: Curley, as the son of the “king” of the ranch should, technically, be known as the “prince”, yet Slim has been accepted as this. Steinbeck uses the Stetson hat to show Slim’s status, as the hat symbolises a crown. We begin to get an understanding of why Curley is jealous of Slim; Slim is everything Curley wishes to be. Steinbeck always talks of Slim with dignity, majesty and respect, and manages to show how talented he is by using an ascending tri-colon to talk about Slims difficult job as a jerkline skinner.

“He was capable of driving ten, sixteen, even twenty mules with a single line to the leaders. ” This heightens the impressiveness of Slims skilled work, and could be interpreted as Slim was a hard worker, who had achieved his authoritative position by being skilled at the hardest job on the farm. However, Steinbeck could also be saying that the “mules” represent the ranchers, and that Slim is able to control and lead all the ranchers using the littlest force possible, as opposed to Curleys harsh and more physical attempts at controlling them.

Steinbeck also says “there was gravity in his [Slims] manner. ” The use of the word “gravity” is interesting because it could be perceived as saying that his manner was serious and solemn, but on the other hand it could be referring to the fact that the other ranchers naturally gravitate towards Slim as their leader. It could also be linked to Slim’s size, as the larger an object is, the bigger the gravitational pull. Steinbeck also describes Slim as “understanding”, a characteristic we see later on when George confides in Slim.

Despite Slims elevated status, Steinbeck manages to present Slim as a representation of migrant workers. By describing him as ‘royalty’ and a ‘master craftsmen’, he is immediately elevated above the rest of the ranchers, however he then deliberately uses phrases “like the others” (when talking about what he wears) to show that Slim is still part of the microcosm of the social standings of that time. We can compare the clothes Slim wears (blue jeans and a denim jacket), to the clothes that George and Lennie are wearing.

Not only that, but this also backs up the point that Slim has earned power by just being himself – he doesn’t act any different from the others, nor does he elevate himself above the rest, yet he still gains their respect. From the start, Steinbeck makes Slim above the other men and this continues until the end of the novel. One of the main themes of ‘of Mice and Men’ is the idea of the American Dream. Each of the characters at least once in the book talk about a dream they wish to fulfil; a dream that would enable them to follow their own desires and be forever content with their life.

George and Lennie often talk about owning a farm, and Curley’s wife tells Lennie just before her death that she dreams of becoming an actress. Slim, however, is the only character who never mentions a life he wishes he had, and ignores the illusory promise of dreams he knows will never come true. He accepts the life he leads and strives to do it well, rather than wishing for something better. Steinbeck himself never believed in the American Dream, in his lifetime he witnessed many immigrants moving to America in the hope of achieving this ‘American Dream’ and failing.

Through the character of Slim, Steinbeck is trying to tell the reader that dreaming for things that are unrealistic is a waste of time, and you will get more out of life if you are grateful and satisfied with the life you lead. Steinbeck uses Curley’s eye contact with the other characters to indicate what his personality is like. Upon meeting Lennie for the first time, Curley’s eyes “stopped” and he “glanced coldly” at George and then at Lennie. Already, Curley is trying to act authoritative, and he seems to think that making this first impression on George and Lennie will put him in a position of power.

These both have negative connotations, and give the reader the impression that Curley is judgemental and bitter. “His glance was at once calculating and pugnacious” – just from once glance, Steinbeck is showing that Curley already wants a fight with the newcomer. However, the words “calculating”, “stiffened” and “gingerly” that Steinbeck then uses contrast this, and give the reader the impression that he is, in fact, nervous, unsure and frightened.

What’s more, is despite the fact that Lennie is a lot larger than Curley (a reason as to why Curley was scared to fight him), he is still “squirming under the look” that Curley was giving him. This implies that Curley was looking down on him, an act people do when trying to coming across as dominant. This is yet another attempt to come across as bigger, tougher, and more powerful than he really is. Steinbeck deliberately uses eye contact to show the development and relationship change between Curley and Lennie from when they first meet and just after their first physical conflict.

At first, Curley “stared levelly” at Lennie, but after the fight on page 93, Curley “avoided looking” at Lennie. This is probably because Curley has just lost the fight to Lennie, as Lennie crushed his hand without really trying, neither of them realising the strength Lennie beholds. This links to Steinbeck’s idea of the impossibility of the American Dream and the harsh reality that these dreams don’t come true – Curley’s dream is to have authority, therefore Lennie not only crushed his hand, but at the same time he crushed Curley’s dream of gaining the social status he so desires.

We are now introduced to the weaker, not-so-tough side of Curley, and here Steinbeck allows the reader to see through this fake image that Curley is aiming to give across to the others. It is interesting how Steinbeck uses Curley’s eye contact with the other ranchers to impose power and to give the reader an insight into his true personality, and how the other characters use their own eyes to see through this facade of Curley’s. The fact that it was Curley’s hand that was crushed in the fight is also very significant. Curley is often described as “handy”, suggesting his ability and eagerness to fight.

Within the same conversation, Curley’s hands are referred too again, saying that Curley keeps one hand “soft for his wife” by covering it with a “glove fulla Vaseline. ” Curley is forever trying to prove his masculinity to the others, and one major way that he does this is by having one hand kept free for his wife and the other kept free for a fight. Therefore, it is clear why having his hand crushed was so humiliating for Curley as this action automatically emasculated him. Having two working hands is also a necessity for working on the farm, and we see another character, Candy, unable to work on the ranch due to the loss of one hand.

His fellow ranchers think of him as weak, so the fact that Curley has now also lost the use of one hand automatically makes him appear even more insubstantial to the others. Hands are also used symbolically throughout the novel for the other characters aswell. In contrast, Slim’s hands are “large and lean” and as “delicate in their action as those of a temple dancer. ” This simile suggests that his hands were talented in what they do, yet also delicate, making him sound somewhat feminine. “Delicate” also connotes words such as gentle, kind and considerate – words that could be used when describing Slim’s personality.

Another way that Steinbeck presents the characters of Curley and Slim is through animalistic imagery. He describes Curley as a “terrier”. Terriers are small, agile and aggressive – traits that Curley possesses. Furthermore, terriers were traditionally bred to hunt, and will go to extreme lengths to catch their prey, and perhaps Steinbeck is using this to connote Curley wanting to hunt down Lennie… Terriers also have extremely strong jaws and when they bite something they do not let go of it, which is also demonstrating the fact that Curley will not stop until he gets what he wants.

Steinbeck uses the simile “flopping like a fish” to describe Curley after the fight. The verb “flopping” suggests that Curley is now defenceless, and has no control of his body movements. The image of how fish are caught also reinforces how Curley was completely defenceless until Lennie let go of his hold; there is no release for a fish until the hook is removed. Fish only “flop” when they are in an unnatural habitat; thus illustrating that Curley was out of his comfort zone, and not equipped well enough to survive a fight with Lennie.

Overall, Steinbeck uses many different techniques to develop these two minor characters and use them to reflect his own attitudes. He uses Curley as a representation of the fact that it is not only the poor who lead a bleak and unhappy life, but also the people who constantly crave more than what they’ve got. Through Slim, he shows that you are more likely to succeed and live a fulfilled life if you accept and appreciate your life as it is. As the narrator, Steinbeck is able to make the reader admire Slim before they have even been introduced to him.

By contrasting Slim’s introduction to Curley’s introduction, the reader from the start is swayed into thinking that these two men represent the good and the evil. Steinbeck subtly uses eye contact and animalistic imagery to show two things; how the characters contrast and how Curley develops throughout the novel, from a seemingly strong, arrogant person to one who is weak and unhappy. Although these two characters only have a small part, they play a big role in how the novel pans out and have a big effect on all the other characters.

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