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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 266

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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.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 745

Curly McClain

Curly McClain, a footloose, ballad-singing cowboy. When he stops by Laurey’s farm to ask her to a “play-party” and she refuses, he asks Aunt Eller to go with him, singing the title song about a rejected lover abandoning the green lilacs for the “red, white, and blue” of a soldier’s life. When he notices the handyman Jeeter’s unhealthy interest in Laurey, Curly warns Jeeter off by besting him in a gun duel. At the party, when Laurey turns to him for comfort after she has fired Jeeter, he proposes marriage. After Jeeter’s accidental death while he is trying to kill Curly and Laurey, Curly is taken from his wedding celebration and held for trial, even though the crowd agrees that Jeeter provoked the fight with Curly that led to his death. Curly escapes jail for one night to go to Laurey and reassure her. He admits that as a cowboy he had few responsibilities, but his marriage to Laurey and the subsequent running of a farm will help him become a responsible citizen worthy of a new state.

Laurey Williams

Laurey Williams, a young farm owner romantic enough to dream about exotic adventures but reluctant to admit her love for Curly. Despite Curly’s promise of a fancy surrey, Laurey refuses to attend the “play-party” with him, accepting Jeeter’s offer instead, despite her fears that the handyman has set a neighbor’s house on fire as revenge for being denied food. Although Aunt Eller prefers Curly as a suitor, she admits that the farm needs a handyman. When Jeeter accosts Laurey at the party, she fires him. When Laurey turns to Curly for comfort, they admit their mutual love, and Curly proposes marriage. After the wedding and disrupted gathering afterward, Laurey locks herself in her room and refuses to eat.

Aunt Eller Murphy

Aunt Eller Murphy, a fiftyish widowed aunt of Laurey who has acted as guardian for her orphaned niece. A practical woman, she encourages Curly’s pursuit of Laurey. After the wedding and tragedy, when Curly is taken away to jail to await trial, Aunt Eller assures Laurey that he is innocent and reminds the girl that a woman’s lot in a new land is a hard one by recounting her own life’s tragedies. Worried that the marriage has not been consummated, Aunt Eller is delighted when Curly escapes custody temporarily to comfort Laurey. She cleverly defies the law so that the lovers can be together for one night, before Curly turns himself in to the federal marshal the next morning.

Jeeter Fry

Jeeter Fry, the murderous farmhand who threatens Laurey. When Curly confronts Jeeter, Jeeter relates stories of the revenge taken by men on women who rejected them. In one of them, the woman is burned to death on a haystack. When Curly rejects the peddler’s attempt to sell dirty pictures, Jeeter inquires about a deadly knife, a “frog-sticker.” At the party, Jeeter’s unwelcome advances frighten Laurey, and he vows revenge for being fired. After the wedding, the drunken Jeeter disrupts the festivities but is prevented from doing harm by the crowd. Later that evening, the men place Curly and Laurey on a haystack and toss them straw dolls to represent children. After distracting the crowd by setting the hay fields on fire, the enraged Jeeter tries to torch Curly and Laurey’s haystack. When Curly jumps down to confront him, Jeeter pulls out the knife. During the ensuing fight, he falls on it and dies.

Ado Annie Carnes

Ado Annie Carnes, a simple farmgirl with little intelligence and few physical attractions. She believes Laurey’s tall tales and allows Laurey to experiment with face whitening to cover Ado Annie’s freckles. When the attempt fails, she is flustered and angry, but she rides to the party with Laurey and Jeeter. Ado Annie sits sewing with Aunt Eller when Curly escapes from jail.

A peddler

A peddler, a philandering Syrian who encourages Laurey’s romantic dreams with his exotic merchandise. He provides Ado Annie with a ride to Laurey’s farm, soothes Aunt Eller’s temper, tempts Laurey with cosmetics, and sells Jeeter the deadly knife.

Old Man Peck

Old Man Peck, a neighboring farmer who gives the “play-party.” He allows Curly to stay with Laurey for their wedding night rather than returning to jail after Aunt Eller argues that Curly and Laurey’s love outweighs the law of the land.