Summary

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 408

Green Grow the Lilacs is a one-act play, set in early twentieth-century Oklahoma, that combines music and drama to tell the story of a love triangle between the cowboy Curly McClain, the beautiful Laurey Williams, and the murderous hired hand Jeeter Fry. The play is unique in that it consists of only one act and six scenes.

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In the first scene, Curly, a young cowboy, is outside a farmhouse singing a song. Aunt Elly hears him and invites him inside. After few more songs and some jovial chatter, Curly tells Ella that he has come to invite Ella's beautiful eighteen-year-old niece Laurey to a party at Old Man Peck's house. Much to Curly's disappointment, Laurey comes down to tell him she is already going to the party with the family's hired hand Jeeter.

In the second scene, Aunt Ella is helping Laurie get ready for the party and chatting to her about Curly and Jeeter, when they hear a gun shot from the smoke house.

Scene three takes place at the same time as scene two. Jeeter and Curly are playing cards. Curly is being his usual jovial self, singing songs, but Jeeter is telling stories about murdering girls. The tension increases when Jeeter interrogates Curly about why he was at the farmhouse earlier. When Curly eventually admits his interest in Laurey, Jeeter seizes his gun and shoots at the back wall. Moments later, Laurey and Aunt Ella are running through the door.

Their rivalry increases in scene 4, at the party, and boils over in scene 5. In scene 4, Laurey becomes scared of Jeeter and fires him from his job at the farm before running away to find Curly. Seeing his chance, Curly asks her to marry him, and she accepts.

Jeeter though is now looking for revenge. After their wedding, in scene 5, Curly and Laurie participate in an old Oklahoma custom where the villagers force the couple into a hay barn and throw straw dolls at them. Jeeter sees this as his chance and sets fire to the straw. Curly and Laurie escape, but in the subsequent fight between Curly and Jeeter, Jeeter falls on his knife and dies. The scene ends with Curly deciding to give himself up to the police.

In scene 6, Curly escapes jail the day before his hearing, to spend the night with Laurey. Men pursue him to the farmhouse, but Aunt Ella convinces them to let the couple finally have their wedding night.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1086

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 from being alone with him. When, tormented by desire, he catches Laurey, she slaps him hard, then tells him that he is no longer her hired hand and that he is to leave her place forever. He slinks away with a dark look. Laurey asks Ado Annie, who has come back to complain about her tight garters, to send Curly out.

When Laurey is finally able to tell Curly her fear of Jeeter, he promises to get her a new hired hand and suddenly asks her to marry him, and he quickly finds himself accepted. Jokingly, he asks if she will give him, a penniless cowboy, a new saddle blanket for a wedding present.

When the party crowd comes out on the porch, they joke about the two lovebirds. Jeeter, a bottle in his hand, looks broodingly at Laurey and Curly, starts to drink a mocking toast to them, and then hurls the bottle across the yard, where it crashes. The crowd, keeping Curly and Jeeter apart, begins to sing “Skip to My Lou.”

One evening, a month later, Laurey and Curly steal quietly across a hayfield toward the Williams house. They are whispering that they have given the crowd the slip after going to town and getting married. They head for the house, followed, unknown to them, by a group of men bent on shivareeing the new couple. Their rude jokes are interrupted when Curly, angry and with his shirt ripped, is dragged from the house by several men. Laurey in her nightgown, frightened and ashamed, follows, surrounded by a wide circle of other men. To the accompaniment of bawdy taunts, Curly and Laurey are made to climb the ladder of a tall haystack; then the ladder is thrown down.

Suddenly, amid the obscene jesting, there is the cry of “Fire!” and Jeeter comes up with a flaming torch. As he springs to light the stack, Curly leaps down and knocks the torch from his hand. The fire is quickly doused, but the drunken Jeeter, his knife out, attacks Curly. In the struggle Jeeter trips, falls on his knife, and lies still. Cord Elam suggests that Curly go and explain the fight to the law.

A few nights later Aunt Eller and Ado Annie sit in the Williams living room wondering when Curly will be let out of the Claremore jail. Laurey, coming from her room looking pale and much older, speaks of her fears for Curly, the shock of hearing the bawdy things the men said at the shivaree, and the troubles that life brings people. Aunt Eller, citing many troubles, explains that one simply has to have the strength to endure such things. The lesson sinks in, and Laurey apologizes for being such a baby.

The dog Shep begins barking outside, then suddenly stops. A moment later Curly comes in; he broke out of jail the night before his trial in order to see Laurey. His pursuers will be after him in a little while, he says, but he has to know that she will wait for him, whatever might happen at the trial. When they let him free he will forget herding cows and learn to farm Laurey’s beautiful acres.

Old Man Peck and several other deputies arrive to return Curly to jail, but Aunt Eller refuses to let them have him before morning. When the others show sympathy for Curly and Laurey, who have still not had their wedding night, Peck agrees, promising to return bright and early in the morning. Not too early, says Aunt Eller. From the bedroom comes Curly’s voice singing “Green Grow the Lilacs.”

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