Last Updated September 5, 2023.
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.