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Love and Tragedy in the Play Oklahoma!


Literature is one of the forms of arts that human beings have invented in order to reflect the objective reality. Therefore, all the complexity of human relations is also described by literary geniuses. The art of playwriting takes a special place in literature as it is subject to visualizing in theatres or in cinematography, and the focus of this paper is the musical play Oscar Hammerstein II and Lynn Riggs titled Oklahoma!.

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It is the story about a town on the Indian Territory in the USA, in which the major characters of the musical live and face all the challenges life presents (Burke, 2002). The musical displays several major topics for the consideration of the spectators, but the central one is the most beautiful feeling that human beings can experience. Love and tragedy observed in the lives of the musical’s major characters are central in Oklahoma!. The whole plenty of various events accompany Curly, Laurey, etc. in their pursuit of happiness in their lives. Thus, love and hope on the one hand, and tragedy and death on the other, in Oklahoma! are the main ideas of this paper.


However, to begin the consideration of the musical, it is necessary to take a brief look at its plot and at the cast of actors involved in it. The very setting of the musical is the territory close to Kansas City where Will, one of the protagonists, goes to earn money for his wedding (All Musicals, 2009). Nevertheless, the main topic of the musical is the love story of Curly and Laurey, the two young people living in the town, loving each other but resisting their feelings due to some reasons (Sommer, 2003).

The latter come in the spotlight later, when Curly, as performed by Hugh Jackman, comes to know that Laurey, Josefina Gabrielle, loves him but is afraid of another man expressing feelings towards her, Jud Frey, performed by Shuler Hensley (All Musicals, 2009). The terrible dream makes things worse as Laurey envisions Jud killing Curly on the day of their wedding, and Laurey becomes even more scared to make her feelings to Curly public (Burke, 2002). Finally, when they dare to marry, Jud decides to kill Curly in reality but falls as the victim to his own knife (All Musicals, 2009). Thus, love and tragedy are interrelated in the musical Oklahoma!, and the following passages will examine this topic in more detail.

Love and Tragedy


Major Characters

Thus, love is one of two major ideas that dominate the musical analyzed (Kantor and Maslom, 2004). Annie and Will, Annie and Ali, Laurey and Curly, Jud and Laurey are all the couples for which love was the most important thing in life, although in some cases this love was unrequited (All Musicals, 2009). Thus, through the lives of the main characters, the topic of love is represented in the musical. It is exemplified by general notions that the spectators can get from watching the piece of art, and by the specific lines that the characters perform (All Musicals, 2009). The former point can be supported by stating that the love story is the leitmotif of the whole play used as the basis for the musical. Moreover, the major tragic episodes in it also happen because of love or its absence, as for example Jud’s death or quarrels between Annie and Will (All Musicals, 2009).

Further on, the latter point is obvious from the words sung by the musical protagonists in various situations (All Musicals, 2009). For example Will, having returned from Kansas City with enough money to persuade his bride’s parents to allow him marry her, finds out that while he was away Annie had some relationships with another man named Ali. Being a man of word, Will does not reject Annie but demands her to explain what love is for her (Sommer, 2003).

For Will himself, his love for Annie is the sense of his life but he is not ready to share it with anyone else: “I’m a one woman man, / Home lovin’ type, / All complete with slippers and pipe. / Take me like I am, er leave me be! / If you cain’t give me all, give me nuthin’ / And nuthin’s whut you’ll git from me!” (Oklahoma!, 1998). Thus, being ready for whatever for his love, Will demands the same from his bride. He demands all or nothing, and such an extreme nature of love is one of the musical’s major ideas (Kantor and Maslom, 2004).

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Major Ideas

Further on, the other major ideas of the musical are all connected with the topics of love and tragedy (Burke, 2002). For example, one of the ideas is the impossibility of saying No to someone’s feelings. This topic is exemplified by the authors of the musical by the case of Annie to whom the whole section of the musical is dedicated: “I heared a lot of stories an’ I reckon they’re true / About how girls are put upon by men. / I know I mustn’t fall into the pit / But when I’m with a feller I fergit! / I’m just a girl who cain’t say ‘no’ / I’m in a terrible fix!” (Oklahoma!, 1998). This understanding of her actions being wrong seems to have no effect upon Annie’s deeds.

Seeing that love cannot be the feeling felt towards a number of men, Annie is still unable to resist the inner calling to reciprocate someone other’s feelings: “When a person tries to kiss a girl / I know she aughta give his face a smack! / But as soon as someone kisses me / I somehow sorta want to kiss him back!” (Oklahoma!, 1998).This is namely the case with Ali, which could ruin Annie’s relationships with Will, but this is no way the case for Lauery and her relations with Curly.

Laurey and Curly

Laurey, first of all, is not the woman of the same kind as Annie. Her life principles are based on pride and self-esteem. Although allowing the pluralism of views and likes, Laurey is firm in her commitment to the one man she loves (Sommer, 2003). At the same time, her confidence is also impressive in its depiction of the fact that love should not be a suffering for a woman, and if her beloved one does harm to her Laurey is sure to keep on living without him: “Why should a woman who is healthy and strong / Blubber like a baby if her man’s goes away? / A weepin’ an’ a whalin’ that he’s done her wrong / That’s one thing you’ll never hear me say!” (Oklahoma!, 1998). Thus, Laurey is ready to for any misfortune for her love, and her initial attempts to hide this feeling from others are also explained by this commitment.

Her fear that “People will say we’re in love” makes her persuade Curly that she does not love him, and makes her compile the list of things he should not do in her presence: “I know a way to prove what they say is quite untrue / Here is the gist, / A practical list of “don’ts” fer you. / Don’t throw bouquets at me / Don’t please my folks to much / Don’t laugh at my jokes too much. / People will say we’re in love.” (Oklahoma!, 1998) However, one of the major reasons for Laurey’s reluctance to admit her feelings is the so called triangle involving her, Curly, and another man in love with Laurey, Jud Fry. This triangle, and Laurey’s fear of making her choice between the men, soon results in the tragic events that accompany the lives of these people (Burke, 2002).


Laurey Cannot Choose

The same thing, i. e. Laurey’s fear, gradually develops into the tragic situation. The essence of her choice lies in the fact that Curly and Jud Fry are the men ready for any deeds for Laurey’s love (Burke, 2002). While Curly is a romantic person trying to persuade Laurey in his feelings through singing songs and inviting her to various public events, Jud is a person of strong will and force who, after the talk with Curly, understands that he is ready to kill anybody for the sake of being with Laurey (Sommer, 2003). The latter, realizing the same thing, is afraid to announce that she loves Curly as she is sure that Jud Fry will kill him. What is demanded from Laury in this situation is that she should make up her mind as for her love not to cause tragedy (Sommer, 2003).

Laurey’s friends also insist on her deciding the issue as soon as possible because they also predict the tragic outcome of Laurey’s indecisiveness: “Make up your mind, make up your mind thoroughly, / Laurey dear, / Make up your own, make up your own story, / Laurey dear! / Old fairies won’t stop just to tell you what to do / Ask your heart, whatever it tells you will be true / Oh… Ooh ooh oh!” (Oklahoma!, 1998) This indecisiveness does harm not to Laurey alone, it turns the life of Jud Fry into a single misfortune of a person whose love is unrequited and whose values are misunderstood. Thus, Jud Fry, although being the antagonist of the story, stands as the most tragic character of the musical.


The tragedy of Jud lies first of all in the lack of understanding from the side of the society: “Jud was the most misunderstood man in this here territory. / People used to think he was a mean ugly feller and they called / him a dirty skunk and an ornery pig stealer.” (Oklahoma!, 1998) Such a misperception spreads over the territory because Jud is known for smoking , often drinking, fighting, and his tough character. This stereotype also turns Laurey against Jud, and breaks his actually big and kind heart: “But the folks that really knowed him. / Knowed that beneath them two dirty shirts he always wore / There beat a heart as big as all outdoors” (Oklahoma!, 1998). But nevertheless people are reluctant even to try to understand Jud, and he has nothing to do but sit alone in his “lonely room” and dream of the happiness of being Laurey.

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In this, another aspect of Jud’s tragedy lies. Thinking over his death, Jud realizes that maybe only after it people would appreciate his human qualities in a proper way, as “he loved the birds of the air and the beasts of the field. / He loved the mice and the vermin in the barns, and he treated / the rats like equals, which was right. And he loved little children. / He loved everybody and everything in the whole world! / Only he never let on, so nobody ever knowed it.” (Oklahoma!, 1998) All these misfortunes finally led Jud Fry to the outburst of aggression conditioned by the lack of love and by the fact that his heart was broken.

Final Tragedy

As a result of this all, what Jud sees as the solution to all his problems is killing of his rival Curly, whom he considers to be the onloy obstacle on his way to Laurey’s heart (Kantor and Maslom, 2004). Although killing cannot be acquitted by any excuse, Jud’s soul is torn apart by hopelessness of his position, and he sees his ally only in death. Jud Fry understands the impossibility of his being with Laurey and this fact makes him sad and angry: “And the girl I want / Ain’t afraid of my arms / And her own soft arms keep me warm. / And her long, yeller hair / Falls across my face / Jist like the rain in a storm!” (Oklahoma!, 1998) But then, Jud realizes that all his visions of Laurey are nothing but his dreams and the reality meets him alone in his “lonely room” again (Kantor and Maslom, 2004).

What Jud decides to do to get rid of these hopeless dreams is to forget Laurey and pay her with pain for his sadness: “I ain’t gonna dream about her arms no more! / I ain’t gonna leave her alone!” (Oklahoma!, 1998) Promising not to leave his beloved woman alone, Jud decides to prevent her and Curly from marrying. He comes to the church and tries to kill Curly but falls dead himself as the victim of his knife. Thus, Jud’s love turns into the fatal tragedy of his life, and shows the typical way in which the things develop in the real life.


Thus, drawing from all the above presented analysis, it is possible to clear out the meaning of the topics of love and tragedy in the musical Oklahoma! (Burke, 2002). First of all, the stylistic meaning of the musical is close to the one of the famous French opera Carmen that also depicts the love triangle which develops into a tragedy of the main heroine death (Sommer, 2003). The differences between the two pieces of art are considerable, but the idea looks very much alike, with the only exception that the American art is famous for its happy-ending character (Kantor and Maslom, 2004). If in Carmen the main character ends up dying, in Oklahoma! the protagonists receive the opportunity to live happily in love having overcome the tragedy of their lives (Sommer, 2003).

As for the real life meaning of love and tragedy as presented in the musical, it is much wider. The authors of the musical manage to show the whole complexity of the human relations by the story of several people from the Kansas territory (Burke, 2002). As they are intertwined in the real live, love and tragedy are viewed as integral parts of human existence in the musical. Lives and deeds of the musical characters reflect the constant interchange of love and tragedy in human lives.


The musical play Oscar Hammerstein II and Lynn Riggs titled Oklahoma! is the story about a town on the Indian Territory in the USA, in which the major characters of the musical live and face all the challenges life presents. Love and tragedy observed in the lives of the musical’s major characters are central in Oklahoma!. The whole plenty of various events accompany Curly, Laurey, etc. in their pursuit of happiness in their lives.

The musical presents the variety of characters whose lives exemplify the main ideas of the objective reality. The analysis of the lyrics for the musical and the underlying messages the musical brings allows stating that love and tragedy are central not only for this musical but for the very life of human beings. Some people become happy to live with their beloved ones, while others, being misunderstood and misperceived by the society, end up forgotten or even dead, as if punished for their sins.

Works Cited

All Musicals. “Oklahoma Lyrics and Video.” 2009. All Musicals. Web.

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Burke, Thomas. “Theatre Review.“ Oklahoma. 2002. Talking Broadway. Web.

Kantor, Michael and Maslon, Laurence. Broadway: The American Musical. New York: Bullfinch Press, 2004.

Oklahoma! Dir. Oscar Hammerstein II, Lynn Riggs. With Hugh Jackman, Josefina Gabrielle. West End Production, 1998.

Sommer, Elyse. “Oklahoma!” Curtain Up. 2003. Musical Review. Web.

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