This is by far the most commonly asked question in a high school language arts classroom when reading Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. I love the confused look on their faces when we get to this section of the novel. It’s adorable…and yet it is also a very valid question. The term “tart” is not one commonly used by today’s youth. (However, once they learn it, they do tend to start using it…)
“Well, I think Curley’s married…a tart.” -from Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
My first year teaching I responded to their questions with an answer that went something like this, “Ummm…well…it’s a woman…who…ummm…you know, I’m glad you brought it up…because we’re actually going to talk in-depth about this tomorrow!” Then after school, I would rush to my computer and do a lot of research to make sure I understood exactly what Steinbeck was referring to when he called Curley’s wife a “tart”.
That was always my biggest fear as a teacher: saying inaccurate information. Sure, I could have guessed, and I would have been pretty close, if not entirely correct…but better safe than sorry! (WARNING to future teachers: Students never forget anything…)
There is endless information out there analyzing the character of Curley’s wife. In my classroom, I encouraged my students to use their knowledge of the book to explore these questions: Why wasn’t she given a name? What could the significance be for not naming a character? Was Curley’s wife really a tart? What was her most significant limitation? Did she have a limitation at all or was society limited in their views of women? How are their ideas about women similar to and different from our views of women today? Or views of the disabled?
These are just a few of the topics we explored throughout this novel. The topic my students fell in love with and truly connected to the most was the idea of “limitations” –how on the surface limitations seem bad, yet when you dig deeper our limitations are what give us our beauty. Two examples of this can be easily explained through the characters of Lennie and George:
- Lennie is intellectually disabled, yet it is this limitation that makes him the only character in the novel who isn’t racist.
- George‘s limitation is Lennie. Lennie keeps him from doing many of the things he wants to do. However, once Lennie is gone, George is filled with sadness and understands that Lennie was the greatest thing in his life – a best friend.
The same can be done for all of the characters in the novel. My students loved exploring these ideas and a hundred others as we progressed through the book. It is a timeless classic, a novel still loved and enjoyed by high schoolers throughout the country.
At least that was my experience teaching Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. I strove everyday to make the novel enjoyable for my students, and they responded in kind.
Future teachers: Get them interested, make them think, and they’ll work for you everyday!