"Jesus, What a Tramp!"
July 17, 2014 8:56 AM   Subscribe

"I'm Not a Tart: The Feminist Subtext of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men" - Actress Leighton Meester examines Steinbeck's intent in writing, and audience reaction to, her role as Curley's wife in Of Mice and Men: "If this woman is purely a victim, why is she so hated? And if she is truly harmless, why is she so threatening?"
posted by sallybrown (10 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Great piece, thanks. I have not been exposed to Of Mice and Men since middle school and remembered almost nothing about the character in question, but it seems from this account that Steinbeck did something very subtle and sharp. And I also love hearing like this about the interior and intellectual side of acting.
posted by grobstein at 9:07 AM on July 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Sherilyn Fenn recently did a Random Roles interview over at AV Club where she talks a bit about the character.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 9:14 AM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I read this a few times in middle school and high school and had never thought of it this way before, despite a strong feminist bent, which is why I found this so fascinating. Even then, though, I don't remember ever finding the final interaction between Lenny and Curley's wife funny. Hard for me to believe people laugh at that; no wonder Leighton Meester finds it so challenging.
posted by sallybrown at 9:33 AM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Maybe I should re-read the book. My strongest memory of it is as a rape apology, since we're supposed to be heartbroken for poor Lenny who just wanted to pet the pretty lady and didn't know his own strength. Maybe that's a misreading.
posted by prefpara at 10:18 AM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

As though I didn't already love Leighton Meester enough, she comes out with an essay like this. I was a huge Gossip Girl fan, and my spec of that show is probably still my favorite thing I've ever written. But even I had to stop watching when Blair's storyline and characterization got so disturbing as to cross a line into some kind of weird emotional torture porn (sometime around season 4, though maybe earlier if I'm being real). Obviously Meester (who played the lead, Blair Waldorf) couldn't come out and say much against the show while she was on it, but I remember her trying her best to speak out about the abuse and dehumanization that was getting sold to girls as a great romance between Chuck and Blair. For example, iIrc, it was Meester who insisted on filming an anti-abuse/rape PSA to be shown after a particularly disturbing episode. She seems like a smart and thoughtful person and I'm so glad that she's beginning to write/publish media commentary like this.
posted by rue72 at 10:51 AM on July 17, 2014 [6 favorites]

Reading this was a long time ago. I always thought that all of the important characters in "Of Mice and Men," were supposed to be tragic. It's right there in the title: Your plans will go to shit, no matter who you are. Well intentioned people can participate in a system that adds up to harm everyone.

I don't get an audience that sympathizes with the slurs against Curley's Wife. She's clearly supposed to be a sympathetic, flawed, tragic character too. Am I misremembering?

Lenny is tragic because he is well meaning but has a disability that prevents him from understanding consequences. George is tragic because he thinks that he can protect Lenny but he is forced to commit the ultimate betrayal that Lenny can never understand. Curley's Wife is tragic because she has been forced by society into a hurtful marriage and to accept her station while also defying that station by trying to make a platonic, human connection with Lenny -- a connection between two people who are outcasts.

Curley's an asshole, though. I think we can all agree to that.
posted by Skwirl at 10:51 AM on July 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

To me they are all sympathetic, tragic characters. Except for Curley.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 11:10 AM on July 17, 2014

Curley's wife's dead body lies still on the floor as Candy spits at her, "You goddamned tramp, you done it didn't you? Everybody said you'd mess things up, you just wasn't no good." And again, the audience cracks up.

I saw a local production of Of Mice and Men, and I don't remember this being the reaction. Laughter during this moment seems really odd to me -- is there something unusual about the staging of this production or the audience it attracts? I believe Meester is reading the audience accurately, but would love to see the play in person to see why people are laughing.
posted by tinymegalo at 2:49 PM on July 17, 2014

Maybe I should re-read the book. My strongest memory of it is as a rape apology, since we're supposed to be heartbroken for poor Lenny who just wanted to pet the pretty lady and didn't know his own strength. Maybe that's a misreading.

If that's what you got out of Of Mice and Men, then yes, you definitely do need to reread the book now that you are an adult.

There are no winners in OMaM. Even George knows that. He has dreams, they all do--Curly's wife is sure she could have been a star in Hollywood if her Mother hadn't stopped her (so she ran off and married Curly instead). But the reality is that Lenny was never gong to have any rabbits on that farm. Two poor migrant workers, one of them with mental issues? They were never gong to d any better than barely scraping by. The American dream, deferred.
posted by misha at 8:26 PM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I feel like the gauntlet has been thrown down, as it were, with the consensus here that Curley is only an asshole and not tragic and doomed like all the others.

....Must re-read and come up with a plan.
posted by notyou at 11:30 PM on July 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

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