Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 238
In Green Grow the Lilacs , Lynn Riggs dramatizes the early twentieth century changes in the American frontier through the story of a love triangle. The triangle is among three Euro-American settlers in Oklahoma before statehood, when it was known as Indian Territory. The play's combination of appealing love story...
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In Green Grow the Lilacs, Lynn Riggs dramatizes the early twentieth century changes in the American frontier through the story of a love triangle. The triangle is among three Euro-American settlers in Oklahoma before statehood, when it was known as Indian Territory. The play's combination of appealing love story and folksy local color, with the addition of memorable songs, accounted for much of the success of its subsequent adaptation into Oklahoma!, widely regarded as the first modern Broadway musical.
The young and innocent Laurey, under her Aunt Eller's protection, is possibly interested in two men, Curly and Jeeter. More than settling down, she is initially concerned with enjoying their attention. The contrast between the winsome Curly and the resentful Jeeter soon becomes apparent, however, and Curly totally wins her heart.
A further contrast is evident in that Curly cares about Laurey as a person and sees himself able to change for the sake of their long-term happiness. He will give up the cowboy's footloose bachelor life to settle down and be a farmer, working the land together with his new wife. Jeeter instead is a rather empty embodiment of unmodified patriarchy. What matters to him is the competition with Curly; he doesn't really want Laurey—he's just sore about losing to the other man. His unethical behavior in burning down the barn, which he thought they would be inside, earns him a just and self-inflicted punishment of death.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 374
Williams farmhouse. Well-kept farmhouse in Indian Territory (later Oklahoma), occupied by young Laurey Williams and fifty-year-old Aunt Eller Murphy. The stage directions introducing the first scene of the six-scene play describe a radiant summer morning and a landscape dotted with men, cattle in a meadow, blades of young corn, and streams. Much of the play centers on the Williams farm.
*Indian Territory. Federal territory in which the play is set, before it merged with Oklahoma Territory to become the state of Oklahoma in 1912. Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers, who adapted the play to create the musical Oklahoma! (1943), stated that Riggs’s opening stage directions inspired the magical atmosphere of “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” the song that opens Oklahoma! In a sense, Green Grow the Lilacs is itself a musical play, throughout which Riggs intersperses traditional folk songs and ballads. The first scene opens with Curly McClain, a brash young cowboy who is Laurey’s suitor, approaching the Williams farmhouse singing “Chisholm Trail,” immediately establishing the play’s frontier setting. Later, Curly sings an old ballad containing the lyrics that give the play its title.
Riggs further reinforces the sense of place through dialogue. He attempts to render the characters’ speech on the page just as he remembers that of his own Oklahoma boyhood. One stage direction describes their speech as lazy and drawling, but warns against use of a generalized southern or “hick” dialect. He wants his characters’ dialect to be true to that of Indian Territory in 1900.
After the murderously jealous farmhand Jeeter dies while trying to burn Curly and Laurey alive, Curly is taken to the territorial capital, Claremore, for an inquiry. However, he escapes and returns to the Williams farmhouse. Much of the sixth scene of the play reflects the primitive state of law and order in Indian Territory in 1900.
Old Man Peck’s house
Old Man Peck’s house. Backyard of a place across Dog Creek, where a party is in progress in the play’s fourth scene. Riggs devotes almost two pages of stage directions to dozens of period details. The revelers square dance outside and pull candy in the kitchen. Here also Curly and Jeeter become enemies in their pursuit of Laurey.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 175
Braunlich, Phyllis Cole. Haunted by Home: The Life and Letters of Lynn Riggs. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988. Written before a major acquisition of Riggs’s papers was made available by Yale University Library. Good on Riggs’s life in the 1930’s; discusses important themes in Riggs’s plays. Index and appendix.
Braunlich, Phyllis Cole. “The Oklahoma Plays of R. Lynn Riggs.” World Literature Today 64, no. 3 (Summer, 1990): 390-395. Offers criticism and interpretation. Presents Riggs’s serious artistic intentions in his Oklahoma plays. Describes the contemporary critical reception of the plays.
Erhard, Thomas. Lynn Riggs: Southwest Playwright. Austin, Tex.: Steck-Vaughn, 1970. An excellent introduction to research of Riggs’s work. Comments on the playwright’s use of the territorial Oklahoma dialect.
Sper, Felix. From Native Roots: A Panorama of Our Regional Drama. Caldwell, Idaho: The Caxton Printers, 1948. Describes the plots of nine plays by Riggs. Concludes that Riggs’s use of violence, fury, incest, and murder seem to give the plays an unreal air. Bibliography and index.
Wilk, M. The Story of “Oklahoma!” New York: Grove Press, 1993.