Green Grow the Lilacs

by Lynn Riggs

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 609

Green Grow the Lilacs is an American play set in Oklahoma that celebrates the way of life in what was then, in 1900, Indian territory, in the form of old song and ballads. It is a realistic portrayal that doesn't shy away from the harder aspects of life in the region.

The play opens with the main character, Curly, singing one of many songs in the play. At the end of the first scene, Curly laments that his love interest loves someone else by singing the song of the title, the once-popular folk song "Green Grow the Lilacs."

Green grow the lilacs, all sparkling with dew
I'm lonely my darling since parting with you
And by the the next meeting I hope to prove true
To change the green lilacs to the red, white, and blue

As well as using songs, the play also uses the region's slang and dialect to illustrate the way of life in the region. The following is just one example of the type of regional language employed:

No, look here, Curly. I've knowed Laurey all her born days, ain't I? And since her paw and maw died five years ago, I been paw and maw both to her. And whutever I tell you about her way of feelin' is the truth. Er if it ain't, I'll give her a everlastin' good spankin', nen it will be!

The customs of the region are most vividly expressed when the farmers capture Laurey and Curly on their wedding to perform the traditional shivaree—a custom that involves throwing newlyweds onto a hay stack and throwing straw dolls at them.

Bridegroom a-waitin' and a-waitin'! Don't you wait now, Mr. Bridegroom! The moon's a-shinin'! Yer time has came! Yes, sirree, bob! No time to wait now. Time to git goin'. See that there bride a-glimmerin' there in her white! Waitin' fer you.

After her previous love interest, Jeeter, proves to be a bit of a brute, Laurey accepts Curly's typically direct marriage proposal.

Well, then! That's all they is to it! Tommorow, I git you a ne h'ard hand. I'll stay on the place myself tonight, 'f you're nervous about that hound-dog . . . Now quit yer worryin' about it, er I'll spank you. Hey, while I think of it—how—how 'bout marryin' me.

Laurey's response is equally blunt.

Gracious, whut'd I wanta marry you for?

However, this hardness is often an act, and there is a soft center to both the story and the characters. A little while after the marriage proposal, Laurey tells Curley

I jist set here and listen at you, and don't keer whut you say about me. Say I'm homely 's a ud fence, you want to—why then, I am homely's a mud fence. 'F you say I'm purty, why I'm purty as anything, and got a voice like Jenny Lind. I never thought of anything like this! But I always wondered and wondered after the first I ever see you—And here we set, you and me, on the kitchen stove like a pair skillets, and I don't know what's come over us to act so silly—and I'm gonna cry in a minute—and it's all yore fault, you orten't to a-made-—love to me this-a-way

Curley himself realizes that he can't marry Laurey unless he sacrifices his life as a cowboy.

Oh, I'd orta been a farmer, and worked hard at it, and saved and kep' buyin' more land, and plowed and planted, like somebody—'stid of doin' the way I've done!

The play ends with Curly again singing the title song.

Listen to that fool cowpuncher! His weddin' night and there he is singin'!

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