Curley's wife is aware of the power of her attractiveness and aims to use it to her advantage: she always dresses in "red" and is "heavily made out". We might interpret this unflatteringly and as evidence of her promiscuous status, as she has no reason to be so dressed up on a ranch; equally, as the colour red represents both lust and danger, the latter being apt foreshadowing for later events in the story.
But right from our first meeting with her, Steinbeck hints that there is more to her than George's harsh stereotype. She is described in the narrative as a "girl", which suggests her youth and her innocence, which are picked up later when she tells Lennie that a director told her she was "a natural" actor and "soon's he got back to Hollywood he was gonna write to me about it.” She never got a letter, however, and the little episode suggests how gullible she is: that she was taken in by a man who was flattering her, presumably, to just have sex with her.
Another early hint that might make us feel sympathetic towards Curley's wife is the fact that she hurries away in agitation when Slim tells her Curley is heading for the house. This is where she should really be, a prisoner, and will probably be punished by Curley for being elsewhere, and we know that Curley can be very violent.
But it is not until she finally has an opportunity for extended speech that we really feel sorry for her. With Lennie, she reveals another side to her character, a softer, more compassionate part of her which "consoled" Lennie when she heard about the death of the puppy. In this section, we hear the injustice of her situation. Her dreams have been crushed: her "coulda" is repeated throughout - could have - could suggesting possibility, but the terrible have suggesting that hope has been crushed. Her most optimistic utterance, "Maybe I will yet," is tainted by the adverb "darkly", suggesting that she would have to do something drastic, something terrible, to escape her situation. And really, when we think about the context in which she lives, what could she do? In the midst of Depression, she, as the son of a farmer, is in a relatively comfortable position, financially. Even if she were to divorce (which was a very difficult thing to achieve in those days), where would she go? How would she support herself? Single women, hit by the Depression, had it even harder than single men; unemployed men were able to seek relief, but a woman rarely did the same for fear of being publicly condemned and shamed. And women who tried to work were also condemned, as they were seen to be stealing the jobs men were entitled to. In such a difficult circumstance, what was left for women to do but disappear into the background? “I’ve lived in cities for many months broke, without help, too timid to get in breadlines,” wrote Meridel LeSueur. “I’ve known many women to live like this until they simply faint on the street from privations, without saying a word to anyone. A woman will shut herself up in a room until it is taken away from her, and eat a cracker a day and be as quiet as a mouse.” So there is nowhere for Curley's Wife to go,…