Last Updated September 5, 2023.
The play lists the characters as follows: Curly McClain, Aunt Eller Murphy, Laurey Williams, Jeeter Fry, Ado Anne Carnes, A Pedlar, Cord Elam, Old Man Peck, and others of the countryside. The main characters, however, are the cowboy Curly McClain; Curley's love interest, Laurey; Laurey's Aunt Ella who raised her; and Laurey's other love interest—the farm hand, Jeeter.
The play opens with Curly, described as "tall, waggish, curly-headed young cowboy in a ten gallon hat," riding through a town singing a song. Aunt Ella, in her fifties, hears him, recognizes him, and invites him up to her house. As they chat, Curly presents himself as a laid back happy-go-lucky individual. He says he has just come over to invite Ella's niece, Laurey, to a party. Unfortunately, Curly quickly finds out that the "fair, spoiled, lovely young girl of about 18" is interested in the "bullet coloured" 35 year old hired hand named Jeeter.
Jeeter, however, quickly shows himself to be a brute. When he finally escorts Laurey to the party, she no longer feels safe being around him, and she runs to Curly for protection, saying
[Jeeter] Tried to kiss me - wouldn't let me out of here. Said he'd tried to see me all by myself fer months. He talked wild- and he threatened me.
Taking his opportunity, Curly proposes marriage to her on the spot, and she accepts. Jeeter, however, is furious and goes out of his way to seek revenge. On Curly and Laurey's wedding night, he tries to kill them by setting fire to a hay stack that the couple are sitting on.