How does the behavior of Curley's wife seem deliberately designed to provoke the men? Chap 4
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Curley's wife emerges in this chapter as both more complex and more loathsome than before. She is, on the one hand, much more than a one-dimensional harlot; at the same time, though, she represents a clear interruption of the socialist fantasy that the three men entertain. Indeed, she literally interrupts them at the height of their fantasizing. She is the snake - or, more to the point, the Eve - in the garden, the fact of life that makes a peaceful farm life so difficult, if not impossible, to obtain.
At the same time, at least she knows herself. We are allowed a glimpse into Curley's wife's discontent, and her frustration with life in some ways mirrors that of the three enfeebled men who have been left behind. She is especially comparable to Crooks; both are obviously intelligent and perceptive of themselves as well as others, and both contain a deep bitterness stemming from their mistreatment. The one is mistreated because he is black, the other because she is a woman. Both have a bleak and accurate insight into the fundamental nastiness of people. Curley's wife understands the deep-laden competitive urge for possessing women which tears men apart, and she knows that she is cast as the villain in this eternal game of one-upmanship.
However, she is also quick to act the villainous part. She knows how to use the unfairness of life to her advantage, which becomes disturbingly clear when she dangles the threat of crying rape in front of Crooks. She knows that as a black man he would be lynched if she told the others that he'd even tried to rape her, and she wields this power to her advantage. Ultimately, though, she is revealed as frightened of her husband as she sneaks off to her house. Curley's wife has been trapped by life, and however brazen and manipulative she may be, she is ultimately one of the comparatively powerless figures in the novel.