Liliom is a barker for Mrs. Muskat’s merry-go-round at an amusement park on the edge of Budapest. As a barker he is a great success, for he has a stock of funny jokes that keep the customers laughing, and he has a playful way with young women.
One day two young servants, Marie and Julie, come to ride the merry-go-round. To Mrs. Muskat’s indignation, Liliom follows Julie onto the carousel and puts his arm around her. Mrs. Muskat warns Julie that if she ever comes near the merry-go-round again, she will be thrown out, as Mrs. Muskat does not wish to lose her license because of questionable behavior in the park. Liliom, however, tells Julie that she is welcome to come back anytime. Although Mrs. Muskat is reluctant to let Liliom go, she cannot ignore this insolence, and she dismisses him.
Liliom, to show his independence, announces that he is going to get some beer. While he is collecting his belongings, Marie discloses to Julie that she is in love with a man in a uniform—a porter, however, not a soldier. When Liliom returns, he turns Marie away and begins to discuss love with Julie, bragging and bullying all the while. Julie shows that she is deeply in love—she has forfeited her job by staying out late with Liliom. Two policemen looking for vagrants interrupt their conversation. After asking routine questions and warning Julie that Liliom is a notorious ne’er-do-well, the policemen continue on their rounds. Although Julie protests that she does not love Liliom, it is obvious that she does.
Liliom and Julie marry and then move into a run-down photographer’s shop, operated by Mrs. Hollunder and her son, at the edge of the park. Mrs. Hollunder, Julie’s aunt, provides them not only with shelter but also with food and fuel. She grumbles all the time, but she is good-hearted beneath her gruffness. Marie, meanwhile, is falling more deeply in love with Wolf, the porter. One day, while the two young women are exchanging confidences, Mrs. Hollunder comes in and says that Julie’s other suitor, a widowed carpenter with two children and a respectable income, still wants to take her out of the poverty in which she lives. Julie tells her that she prefers to stay where she is. Mrs. Muskat comes and offers to take Liliom back, but he refuses. He and a friend named Ficsur have a scheme for getting a great deal of money, and he is no longer interested in his old job at the merry-go-round.
(The entire section is 999 words.)