Comparison of Curleys wife from “Of Mice and Men” by Steinbeck, and Sophie from Hardy’s “The Sons Veto” Essay

The Sons’ Veto by Thomas Hardy is a pre 20th century short story set in rural Wessex in England. It tracks the life of a young servant girl named Sophie, who despite the enormous social void, marries a reverend and becomes a lady, and her struggle to settle into her new found social status. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck takes place in the early 1930’s on a ranch in California. The focus of the story is on two characters, Lennie and George, however Curley’s wife is an important character who has a vital role in the fatal ending of the plot.

Both Sophie and Curley’s wife are undoubtedly pretty in their own way, and both spend a lot of time on their appearance to compensate for what they feel they lack. For Curley’s wife this is her personality, “Her face was made up and the sausage curls were all in place.” And in Sophie’s case her intelligence and lack of education “wasted hours braiding her beautiful hair”

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Dialogue is important in both the stories, and the sound of a character’s voice can portray a lot about their personality. For instance the voice of Curley’s wife “had a brittle nasal quality” this reflects her personality because you imagine it to be quite a harsh unpleasant sound, as she is portrayed as a mean woman.

The two women have both married for reasons other than true and devout love. Curley’s wife, whose ambition in life is to become a film star, has married to get away from home and to spite her mother. Whom she believes is trying to stop her from achieving this goal, and so she marries Curley, a ranch worker in desperation rather than anything else, “Met him at the riverside dance Palace that same night”. Which tells us that she is rather brash and impulsive, and doesn’t think about the outcome of her actions. In comparison Sophie marries to improve her quality of life, as she is lame and so that she would have enough money not to work, “No Sophie lame or not lame I cannot let you go”. From this we can infer that Sophie has a sensible nature and thinks of her future, completely the opposite of Curley’s wife.

Curley’s wife does not love her husband nor does she respect him “I don’ like Curley he ain’t a nice fella” this is why their relationship doesn’t work and Curley’s wife feels the need to talk to other men. Whereas Sophie, doesn’t exactly love the reverend but respects him, “a respect for him which almost amounted to veneration”, which explains why Sophie learns to love him.

This marriage of the Reverend and Sophie is an important turning point in the plot, and to understand this we have to have some knowledge of the social and historical context of the story itself and the era in which it was written. In fact it is the main reason that Hardy wrote the story in the first place, as its’ purpose is to portray Hardy’s own indignation and his strong feelings against class distinction, prejudice and snobbery.

In the 19th century for a middle class and well-to-do person, such as the vicar to marry his own parlour maid was reckoned to be a disgrace. And as Hardy astutely comments, the vicar had effectively “committed social suicide” for this would have seemed an outrageous thing to do at the time. Hardy was extremely conscious of this social taboo, as his mother had been servant to a Vicar in Dorset.

Curley’s wife deliberately disobeys her husbands’ wishes by talking to other men on the farm, “I can’t talk to nobody but Curley. Else he get mad.” This ties in with the fact that she doesn’t respect him and there is no trust between them. While Sophie expressly obeys her son Randolphs’ wishes by not marrying Sam; the man she loves. “It is not you who are the child, but he”, to obey her son like this even though he is younger than her demonstrates Sophies genteel nature and her desire not to hurt anyone.

Hardy uses this scenario so that readers will empathise with his view that men at the time were allowed to dominate over women. Although Sophie is Randolph’s mother she still feels obliged to respect his wish that she does not marry Sam. This is due to the attitudes of the period, for it was expected that women should obey men as, supposedly ‘they knew best’. Even though it is clear that Sophie is far more mature than her son despite her lack of education, which is shown by the fact that he throws a tantrum and locks himself in his room, she is still forced to abide by his decision.

Also Hardy shows some repugnance for the Clerical profession, because as a priest Randolph should guide people towards what is right in the eyes of God instead of which he acts as if he is God. Also he should be humane and compassionate whereas in fact he is anything but compassionate as the only person he looks after is himself.

Curley’s wife is lonely although she has many people around her ” I can’t talk to no-one” this is partly because she is a woman and has no other women to talk to and also because she is forbidden from talking to the men on the farm.

This is partly due to the social and historical context of the book. The men won’t talk to her for two reasons; firstly they don’t want to upset Curley because he is the son of the boss, so if they upset him they may lose their jobs. Secondly they don’t want to talk to her, they regard her as just a common tart; “Jesus what a tramp.” Who they don’t really pay any attention to; “You leave her be.” In the American West in the 1930’s the women had only two roles; they were both wives and mothers, who stayed at home and cleaned and cooked and maybe helped their husbands with light farm work. Or they were prostitutes who worked in the ‘Cathouses’, which shows that women didn’t have a very high social status in this era of history- this may be why Curley’s wife is so lonely.

In a different scenario Sophie is also lonely because “her life became insupportably dreary” but her seclusion is due to the fact that she is isolated in her small house. However Sophie does have attention and affection from her childhood sweetheart Sam, “Oh dear, dear Sophie” whom, given the chance would show her more love than she could ever ask for. Yet because her son will not let her marry him she never truly gets to appreciate that affection. Compared to this Curley’s wife seeks attention but never finds it, this may be why she wishes to become a film star, so that people will adore her and shower her with affection. So some ways Sophie has more companionship than Curley’s wife does although she lives alone.

Both women are from humble origins, and are born into lower class families, Sophie being a servant and Curley’s wife says she was stuck in a “place where I couldn’t get nowhere or make somethin’ of myself”. However by marrying the Reverend Sophie has risen above her true social status to become a “lady”, and yet would feel more comfortable returning to her humble birth. “No I am not a lady, I never shall be. But he is a gentleman, and that – makes it- o how difficult for me.”

For she knows that she does not belong to the upper class. Yet Curley’s wife wants to escape her lowly beginnings and climb the social ladder by being “in t’ pitchers” Comparing these two women therefore illustrates irony as one is unhappy though she is rich and would rather return to being poor. Whilst the other is discontented because of being poor and thinks that being rich and famous will solve all her problems.

Curley’s wife’s lack of status is exaggerated by the fact that she has no name. Not once in the book is she called anything other than Curley’s Wife, which emphasises that the other men on the farm see her as just another one of Curley’s possessions.

The deaths of both women reflect their lives. Sophie dies with dignity and is laid to rest by a long sombre funeral procession, whereas Curley’s wife dies in a stable where horses sleep, with a group of men blundering around her, a rather brutal way to exit this world. Sophie kept all her troubles and unhappiness inside “Why mayn’t I marry Sam she murmured when no-one was near,” which demonstrates that she was a women of great pride and self respect, as she doesn’t want anyone else to know. Unlike her, Curley’s wife tells anyone who will listen about her problems and how Curley mistreats her “Ain’t I got a right to talk to nobody!” This illustrates her desperate need to be loved; she has no honour and no wish to conceal her inner feelings.

Lastly the emotions which follow the pairs death are totally different. Sophies’ death leads to great sadness and mourning “eyes were wet”. The death of Curley’s wife on the other hand leads to feelings of contempt, anger, and bitterness. This is partly because of the fact that she was murdered whereas Sophie died naturally, and partly because of culture and attitudes of the era that the book is set in, which shows the social and historical context of the story.

Hardy’s book which is written pre 1900 displays a lot of concealed emotions, as would have been socially acceptable in this era. Whereas Steinbeck’s book has many brash characters who evoke much emotion, this would have been standard in 1930’s California.

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