Chapter 5 is filled with characters whose thoughts can be described very precisely: Lennie's fear, Curley wife's musings and then her terror, George's stoic acceptance, Curley's meanness, and Candy's despondency. All occur because of the meeting in the barn between Lennie and Curley's wife, a meeting that seals forever the fates of all involved.
Lennie's fate is sealed when he realizes he has done a worse thing than kill a pup. His panic in killing Curley's wife is much like the panic he felt when Curley baited him and Lennie broke Curley's hand. Lennie differentiates at some level between the bad thing of killing the pup and the bad thing of killing Curley's wife, as evidenced by his leaving for the bushes near the river when he realizes she is dead. However, he doesn't fully comprehend the implications of her death, as evidenced by his taking the pup's body with him so that George wouldn't see it as well. Lennie's reasoning is that the body of Curley's wife is bad enough; the body of the pup would compound the wrong done. This action — and the thought process that preceded it — reemphasizes Lennie's child-like understanding of the events that have transpired.
Throughout the novel, Steinbeck describes Curley's wife in terms of her appearance and the reactions of the ranch hands toward her. She has been alternately a "tart," "jailbait," and various other derogatory terms, used often by George. But in this scene, the reader gets a different view of her as she talks about her own lost dreams. Her current situation is the result of a series of bad choices and unhappy circumstance. She lost her chance at being in the movies because of her age and her mother, and, perhaps in retaliation, she took up with Curley, leading to a loveless marriage with a man who abuses her and completes her feelings of worthlessness. She lives a solitary life on a ranch, with no companion, no one to talk to, and in continual fear that her husband will beat up any person in sight. Although her actions and flirtations have exacerbated the unhappiness of her situation, Steinbeck gives us a view of her past, and we discover that she, like everyone else in the novel — and perhaps even more so — is a victim of loneliness.
Steinbeck reinforces this kinder impression of Curley's wife in his description of her in death. Momentarily, the light from the setting sun becomes softer and shines across her body. She no longer looks like a tart who needs attention; instead she looks like a young, pretty, innocent girl, sleeping lightly.
George clearly accepts the end of his and Lennie's dream. The reader feels that he never really believed it could happen even though the plan of using Candy's money made it seem possible for awhile. George says on two different occasions to Candy, "I should of knew … I guess maybe way back in my head I did." Later when Candy suggests they could still have the farm together, George says, "… I think I knowed from the very first. I think I know'd we'd never do her. He usta like to hear about it so much I got to thinking maybe we would." Without Lennie, the dream is gone and perhaps never really existed except in the words that made Lennie's happiness complete.
George's words echo the prophesy of Crooks when he imagines what his life will be like without Lennie: "I'll work my month an' I'll take my fifty bucks an' I'll stay all night in some lousy cat house. Or I'll set in some poolroom till ever'body goes home. An' then I'll come back an' work another month an' I'll have fifty bucks more." Gone is the dream. Gone are the complaints about what he could do if he did not have Lennie around his neck. Now he will be alone like everyone else.
four-taloned Jackson fork a hay fork with four prongs, for lifting large amounts of hay.
Salinas city in west central California, near Monterey.
"in the pitcher" "in the picture;" here, meaning in the movies.
ringer a horseshoe thrown so that it encircles the peg.