In this lesson, we will examine the antagonistic character, Curley, from Of Mice and Men, who is the mean, cruel, and menacing son of the boss. Throughout the novel, Curley picks fights with the rest of the men and objectifies and controls his wife.
Curley the Antagonist
Curley is the antagonist, or the character who stands in opposition to the protagonist (usually the main character), in Of Mice and Men. He is the son of the boss of the ranch and is always stirring up trouble for everyone, particularly the main characters, George and Lennie. John Steinbeck portrays Curley devoid of any good qualities, and does not develop Curley's character throughout the novel. Because Curley's character is rather static, the novel concludes with the reader disliking him as much as at the beginning.
Curley and His Wife
When we first hear of and meet Curley, he has been married for just two weeks to his wife. Curley's wife is young, beautiful, and promiscuous - possibly the reasons why he married her. Curley is insecure about his masculinity, or sense of maleness, possibly because of his small stature, so he tries to prove it by marrying his wife, keeping her from talking to anyone else, and picking fights with other men. He frequently brags about his wife, and Candy mentions that Curley keeps Vaseline in one of his gloves and that ''Curley says he's keepin' that hand soft for his wife.'' Although Curley wants to keep his wife happy, he never spends time with her and treats her like a possession, evidenced by her only being called ''Curley's wife'' throughout the novel. He tries to keep her from spending time with anyone else on the ranch.
Curley the Fighter
Curley is a boxer, which leads him to try to pick fights with the other men, especially large men, to prove his worth and masculinity. Curley is always looking to upset someone, so they will fight with him, and he decides to pick on Lennie since Lennie is bigger and stronger but also kinder and less intelligent. When Curley first meets George and Lennie, the reader senses the ominous nature of this man, as does Lennie. '' 'I don't want no trouble,' Lennie mourned. 'I never done nothing to him.' '' George says he does not like men like Curley, and worries not just for Lennie getting pulled into a fight, but himself as well.
When Curley is upset with Slim talking to his wife, he enters the bunkhouse looking for a fight. When he sees Lennie smiling, thinking about the rabbits he will get to tend, Curley thinks, or at least pretends to think, that Lennie is laughing at him and decides to pick a fight. When Lennie finally fights back and crushes and mangles Curley's hand, Slim suggests to Curley that he lie and tell people he got his hand caught in a machine. Curley is able to preserve his masculine image and dignity and Slim says, ''. . .you jus' tell an' try to get this guy canned and we'll tell ever'body, an' then will you get the laugh.''
At the end of the novel, when Lennie kills Curley's wife, we see the heartlessness of Curley. Curley is angry about his wife's death, but does not seem mournful, merely the anger one would have if a possession was destroyed. He decides to go after Lennie to kill him, saying, ''I'm gonna get him. I'm going for my shotgun. I'll kill the big son-of-a-bitch myself. I'll shoot 'im in the guts.'' Rather than being merciful and shooting him merely to kill him, Curley plans to shoot Lennie in the stomach, so he will suffer and die slowly.
Curley is the antagonist, or the character who stand in opposition to the protagonist, in Of Mice and Men who, because of his lack of confidence in his masculinity, or sense of maleness, marries and treats his wife like a possession, showcased by the fact that we never learn her name. Curley is a mean, small boxer who loves to pick fights with others and make them suffer, and Lennie, due to his kind nature, is typically on the receiving end of this throughout the novel, though he does defend himself and manages to crush Curly's hand.