(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Lynn Riggs’s play Green Grow the Lilacs tells a folktale of young love in the Indian Territory in 1900, seven years before it became the state of Oklahoma. Breaking with the theatrical tradition of acts, his experimental play is constructed in six related scenes. Its old songs and cowboy ballads charmed Broadway audiences.

When cowboy Curly McClain comes courting Laurey on a June morning, her Aunt Eller welcomes him and his boast of a fancy surrey and white horses to take them to the party. When Laurey prefers to go with Jeeter, the “bullet-colored” hired hand, Curly sings a ballad of a disappointed lover who changes the green lilacs of home “for the red, white, and blue” of the army.

The rivalry between Curly and Jeeter over Laurey’s affections starts in Jeeter’s smokehouse and peaks at the party, where Laurey flees to Curly for protection. Curly’s marriage proposal, which is accepted, makes him realize that he must change his cowboy life for a farmer’s plow, saying, “the ranches are breakin’ up fast. They’re puttin’ in barbed w’ar, and plowing up the sod fer wheat and corn.”

The lovers’ marriage night is interrupted by a shivaree, a raucous wedding celebration by the townspeople. The shivaree is an Oklahoma custom. The townspeople put the couple on a haystack and toss straw dolls, representing children, to them. When Jeeter sets fire to the couple’s haystack, Curly defends Laurey and,...

(The entire section is 420 words.)

Green Grow the Lilacs Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Curly McClain, a tall, curly-haired young cowboy, calls at the home of Laurey Williams and Aunt Eller Murphy to ask if Laurey will go with him to a play-party at Old Man Peck’s. Laurey, pretending indifference and even scorn for Curly, turns down the invitation and goes back to her bedroom, reappearing later to say that she is going to the party but that Jeeter Fry, her hired man, is taking her. At first angry, Curly sits down at the small organ in the living room and plays and sings the old song “Green Grow the Lilacs,” which tells of a rejected lover. Then, quickly recovered from Laurey’s rebuff, he asks Aunt Eller to go to the party with him in his hired fringe-top surrey. He leaves, saying he will pay a little call at the smokehouse where Jeeter lives.

In Laurey’s bedroom, a little later, Aunt Eller announces that she is going to the party with Curly. Laurey shows no great interest. Instead, musing on how much she loves her place, she confides her fear that Jeeter might sometime burn it down. This fear of him is what made her accept his attentions and go to parties with him. Aunt Eller belittles her fears.

Ado Annie Carnes arrives with a peddler, from whom Laurey buys for Ado Annie a pair of garters and some liquid powder to hide her freckles. They are startled when they hear a shot from the direction of the smokehouse, and then another.

Meanwhile, before and during a card game in the gloom and dirt of the smokehouse, Curly learns that Jeeter’s mind is obsessed by two things: lurid crime, which he likes to read about, and sex, which dominates his thinking and his talk much of the time. As they play cards, Jeeter’s two pistols lie on the table. Curly’s persistent needling of him about his dirty, dark thoughts and his filthy personal habits so angers Jeeter that he suddenly picks up one pistol and fires at random, splintering the opposite wall. Curly picks up the other pistol and fires neatly through a knothole. Aunt Eller, Laurey, Ado Annie, and the peddler, hurrying in to learn what the shooting is about, are relieved to learn that no harm has been done. After the women leave, the peddler remains to bring forth his wares of special interest to men. He praises the efficiency of a long-bladed knife for Jeeter. Curly considers the possible advantage of buying a pair of brass knuckles—just in case.

At Old Man Peck’s the party is already in progress when Aunt Eller arrives with Curly, followed a little later by Laurey, Ado Annie, and Jeeter, who complains to Laurey because she had invited Ado Annie to go with them. Keeping Laurey from entering the house, he asks why she tries so hard to keep...

(The entire section is 1086 words.)