Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book


Rate this book
The play takes place on Labor day Weekend in the joint back yards of two middle-aged widows. The one house belongs to Flo Owens, who lives there with her two maturing daughters, Madge and Millie, and a boarder who is a spinster school teacher. The other house belongs to Helen Potts, who lives with her elderly and invalid mother. Into this female atmosphere comes a young man named Hal Carter, whose animal vitality seriously upsets the entire group. Hal is a most interesting character, a child of parents who ignored him, self-conscious of his failings and his position behind the eight ball. Flo is sensitively wary of temptations for her daughters. Madge, bored with being only a beauty, sacrifices her chances for a wealthy marriage for the excitement Hal promises. Her sister, Millie, finds her balance for the first time through the stranger's brief attention. And the spinster is stirred to make an issue out of the dangling courtship that has brightened her life in a dreary, minor way.

77 pages, Paperback

First published October 1, 1953

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

William Inge

41 books37 followers
Dramas of American playwright William Motter Inge explored the expectations and fears of small-town Midwesterners; his play Picnic (1953) won a Pulitzer Prize.

Works of this novelist typically feature solitary protagonists, encumbered with strained sexual relations. In the early 1950s, Broadway produced a memorable string. Inge rooted his portraits of life and settings in the heartland.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
1,152 (29%)
4 stars
1,309 (33%)
3 stars
1,046 (27%)
2 stars
279 (7%)
1 star
71 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 56 reviews
Profile Image for Bobby.
32 reviews7 followers
September 5, 2008
Probably the most "American" play I've ever read. The small town, the proper way to act, the outsider who is despicable yet irresistible: it's all here. Makes you feel so nostalgic you'll hum Souza, even though Inge is pointing out how deluded our perfect American dream lives really are.
Profile Image for AJ (the.booknerd.reads).
518 reviews10 followers
April 14, 2018
good dynamics between all the romantic relationships, as well as the familial aspect of Flo wanting to protect her children. decent writing, somewhat interesting plot. it'll be quite an experience to play Flo in a reader's theatre production at school
Profile Image for Classic reverie.
1,365 reviews
September 13, 2022
I have seen William Holden and Kim Novak in the 1955 movie version of William Inge's "Picnic" many times and also a couple weeks ago, I can watch this movie again and again, I love it just as much. The cast is superb and generally while I am reading a book/play I find that many times I see a different character, then that of the screen actor is just off, even though I enjoyed the movie prior to reading the story. As I read this play, I saw Novak and Holden as well as the other actors, perfect for their parts, they are their characters. I find it interesting that Paul Newman was Alan in the 1953 theatre production. In my spoiler section, I will comment more on the differences between the play and movie but the main difference is the play centered on the two homes, of Mrs. Potts and Mrs. Owens. The movie scenes at Alan's business and home, as well as the police and Alan's father are absent but talked about in the play. The actual picnic is talked about but not seen. Madge being a queen has happened a year ago in the play, whereas in the movie she receives her crown. The dance is not at the picnic but outside near their house. The swimming pool scene is only in the movie and only talked about in the play, with some other differences, but other than that the movie is so close to the sentiment of the play. It is about struggling to find what you want and not being lead to a life because it seems safe. It is about being true to your feelings and fighting for them. The outer appearances to a person is only that, and the depth is so much more. Opening the book instead of judging by the cover, and a coming to age is present here.

William Holden as Hal Carter
Kim Novak as Madge Owens
Rosalind Russell as Rosemary Sydney
Betty Fields as Flo Owens
Susan Strasberg as Millie Owens
Cliff Robertson as Alan Benson
Arthur O'Connell as Howard Bevans
Verna Felton as Helen Potts

Highlight (Yellow) | Location 1975
PICNIC was produced by The Theatre Guild and Joshua Logan, at the Music Box Theatre, New York City, on February 19, 1953, with the following cast: HELEN POTTS Ruth McDevitt HAL CARTER Ralph Meeker MILLIE OWENS Kim Stanley BOMBER Morris Miller MADGE OWENS Janice Rule
Highlight (Yellow) | Location 1982

Highlight (Yellow) | Location 2029
She is a wiry kid of sixteen, boisterous and assertive, but likable when one begins to understand that she is trying to disguise her basic shyness. Her secret habit is to come outside after breakfast and enjoy her morning cigarette where her mother will not see her. She is just lighting up when BOMBER, the newsboy, appears at the back gate and slings a paper noisily against the house. This gives MILLIE a chance to assail him)

Highlight (Yellow) | Location 2102
(MADGE and HAL stand looking at each other, awkward and self-conscious. FLO, the mother, comes out almost immediately, as though she had sensed HAL’S presence. FLO carries a sewing basket in one arm and a party dress over the other. She is a rather impatient little woman who has worked hard for ten years or more to serve as both father and mother to her girls. One must feel that underneath a certain hardness in her character there is a deep love and concern for the girls. She regards HAL suspiciously)
Highlight (Yellow) | Location 2134
MADGE Whenever I hear that train coming to town, I always get a little feeling of excitement—in here. (Hugging her stomach) MILLIE Whenever I hear it, I tell myself I’m going to get on it some day and go to New York. FLO That train just goes as far as Tulsa. MILLIE In Tulsa I could catch another train. MADGE I always wonder, maybe some wonderful person is getting off here, just by accident, and
Highlight (Yellow) | Location 2142
he’ll come into the dime store for something and see me behind the counter, and he’ll study me very strangely and then decide I’m just the person they’re looking for in Washington for an important job in the Espionage Department. (She is carried away) Or maybe he wants me for some great medical experiment that’ll save the whole human race. FLO Things like that don’t happen in dime stores. (Changing the subject) Millie, would you take the milk inside?
Highlight (Yellow) | Location 2155
FLO (A hard question to ask) Madge, does Alan ever—make love? MADGE When we drive over to Cherryvale we always park the car by the river and get real romantic. FLO Do you let him kiss you? After all, you’ve been going together all summer. MADGE Of course I let him. FLO Does he ever want to go beyond kissing? MADGE (Embarrassed) Mom!
Highlight (Yellow) | Location 2162
FLO I’m your mother, for heaven’s sake! These things have to be talked about. Does he? MADGE Well— yes. FLO Does Alan get mad if you—won’t? MADGE No. FLO (To herself, puzzled) He doesn’t ... MADGE Alan’s not like most boys. He doesn’t wanta do anything he’d be sorry for. FLO Do you like it when he kisses you?
Highlight (Yellow) | Location 2171
MADGE Yes. FLO You don’t sound very enthusiastic. MADGE What do you expect me to do—pass out every time Alan puts his arm around me? FLO No, you don’t have to pass out. (Gives MADGE the dress she has been sewing on) Here. Hold this dress up in front of you. (She continues) It’d be awfully nice to be married to Alan. You’d live in comfort the rest of your life, with charge accounts at all the stores, automobiles and trips. You’d be invited by all his

Highlight (Yellow) | Location 2178
friends to parties in their homes and at the country club. MADGE (A confession) Mom, I don’t feel right with those people. FLO Why not? You’re as good as they are. MADGE I know, Mom, but all of Alan’s friends talk about college and trips to Europe. I feel left out. FLO You’ll get over those feelings in time. Alan will be going back to school in a few weeks. You better get busy. MADGE Busy what?

❌❌❌❌❌❌❌❌❌❌❌❌❌❌❌❌❌❌❌❌❌❌❌❌❌❌❌❌❌❌❌❌❌❌❌❌❌❌spoiler alert

Besides the differences I mentioned above, Millie's and Madge's relationship needs to be addressed, in the movie the sisters didn't understand each other but in the end they did and their was a respect for each of them which has not been apparent in the play. Millie talking about her not wanting to bring up a bunch of kids in this dirt water town was said to Madge and all her talk was directed at her sister to follow her heart and Hal. In the play Madge decides for herself and with Hal's love for her. Millie in the play liked Alan and told him, whereas in the movie she liked Hal. In the play Alan's father wants him to go back to school because of his not wanting him to be around Madge, whereas in the movie, he is looking to marry Madge and thinks his father will approve after she is made queen. Alan likes to look at Madge and sees her as a possession. Madge would not be the smart enough for his friends and she knows it, also she sees that he would not appreciate her besides her looks. She seems to think Hal sees her not as a beauty but someone that sees more of herself. Hal tells her things that nobody else knows and feels that he can be somebody with her. In the play it is clear they made love as well as Rosemary and Howard did; to both women it is a turning point to their feelings. Madge sees how to truly love someone and Rosemary sees that she gave herself and needs to have a life with another, being married, she cannot be alone the rest of her life, her chance has come. Will Madge be happy? I think it will be hard but her chance of happiness is in Hal, and could never be with Alan who sees her as a object and who she doesn't love. Rosemary and Howard is all spot on as the the movie and play, it stays true. I think Howard will like the married life in the end and be happy he was forced. Mrs. Potts history of her short married life and her mother's interference is told; a model for Madge not to follow.
Profile Image for Sookie.
1,134 reviews83 followers
November 23, 2016
End of summer, the weekend before new school year and a fresh romance in the making.

Inge's play starts with an idyllic morning set in the shared backyard of two middle class houses that is about to be disrupted by the arrival of a young man - Hal. The seemingly perfect relationships are tested and exposed with Hal's bragging nature and inability to stick to a job. Inge's play is anything but romanticized; it in fact explores the complicated relationship the women in the play, share. Be it the siblings who envy each other - one is the beauty and the other is the brains, the spinster school teacher who has a strict moral principle, the kind neighbor and the matriarch herself who desperately wishes her oldest daughter would settle down with her beau.

Inge explores passion, desperation, sisters envy, jealousy and the spark that is summer romance that changes everything. As the weekend comes to close, new dreams are pursued, old dreams are crushed and fresh ones are made. A fateful whirlwind of a weekend that changes lives of two families forever.
Profile Image for Matt.
161 reviews2 followers
May 5, 2012
I had the pleasure of not only reading this play multiple times this year, but also performing it for exam plays at my school this year. This is a play full of vibrant life exposed by the beautiful use of the English language by William Inge.
Profile Image for Chrystal.
756 reviews51 followers
October 17, 2018
Easily the worst play I've ever read. This won a Pulitzer Prize for what - most asinine dialogue ever written?
1,872 reviews13 followers
January 13, 2020
Picnic is a 1953 play by William Inge. The play was premiered at the Music Box Theatre, Broadway, on 19 February 1953 in a Theatre Guild production, directed by Joshua Logan, which ran for 477 performances. The original cast featured Ralph Meeker, Eileen Heckart, Arthur O'Connell, Janice Rule, Reta Shaw, Kim Stanley and Paul Newman. Inge won the 1953 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for the work, and Logan received a Tony Award for Best Director. The play also won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Play of the season.
Picnic was Paul Newman's Broadway debut. An unknown at the time, Newman campaigned heavily for the leading role of Hal, but director Joshua Logan did not think Newman was physically large enough to convey the lead character's athletic attributes. As a result, Ralph Meeker was given the role of Hal opposite Janice Rule as Madge. Newman played Hal's former college roommate Alan Seymour while understudying the role of Hal. Newman eventually took over the lead role. ***** Since Hal was supposed to be the "good looking" drifter it is difficult to picture Ralph Meeker being picked over Newman, regardless of size!!!! It is Labor Day, and everyone is preparing for a neighborhood picnic. Hal Carter, a drifter, arrives in town looking for work and visits his college friend Alan, who is dating Madge Owens with the intent to marry her. Her neighbor, Flo Owens, distrusts Hal, especially around her daughters, Madge and Millie. Since shy Millie does not have a date, neighbor Mrs. Potts suggests that Hal accompany her, much to the chagrin of Flo. Hal agrees, but he is much more interested in Madge. There is an undeniable attraction between the two, as much as they try to fight it. While getting ready for the picnic, the family and friends dance in Flo's backyard to music playing nearby. Hal grows on both Millie and Madge, and they both vie for his attention. Rosemary, an "old maid schoolteacher" who boards at the Owens house, notices, disapproves, and is attracted to the shirtless Hall as she waits for her Labor Day date. As Madge and Hal dance passionately, and a drunken Rosemary later butts in so she can dance with Hal. He sits in the shadows by himself while everyone leaves for the picnic. Madge stays behind to change her dress. When she comes back outside and tries to console Hal, they kiss after a deep and revealing conversation. They run off together and spend the night in the car. The question remains, when Hal leaves, will he be alone. Recommend. Kristi & Abby Tabby
Profile Image for Victoria Ellis.
728 reviews55 followers
May 7, 2021
Picnic is the 1953 Pulitzer Prize-winning play that takes place on Labour Day weekend, and the arrival on down-on-his-luck Hal and his relationships with the close-knit community. After finishing the play, I immediately picked it up again because it deserved a second read. Inge's script is so rich that you will get something different out of it each time you read it. There is so much said, and not said, that you can't help but keep thinking about the play long after the final curtain. The use of the train, which you only hear through dialogue or the sound of its while, was a great repeated motif that made you keeps drawing you back to the theme of escape, and of travel. There are fascinating conjunctures made regarding gender roles, of how they play off one another, and how Hal, a new male arrival, changes the pre-established dynamics of an overtly female setting. His arrival acts as a catalyst for several changes, some direct and some indirect. In the UK this play is not well-known at all, despite the 1955 film adaptation, and as far as I can see has not had a West End run. I hope that I will get to see a live performance of this play someday in the future.
Profile Image for Jessica.
992 reviews15 followers
April 23, 2018
I was reluctant to pick this one up on the heels of Bus Stop (which rather upset me), but I'm glad I did. Although there are still elements that could be construed as disturbing in the right light, really this seems like a much more "wholesome" play about young love and mistakes and less about predators and prey.

As a read, it's fine; quick, interesting, well-developed characters. But it's easy to see that this would shine on stage in a way that just doesn't translate via a solo reading.

I think Inge himself said he didn't really write "stories" but wanted to delve more deeply into the small vignettes of life and that describes this play perfectly. The most important actions of the two days over which the play is set happens almost entirely off-stage leaving the reader with the pre- and post- events which makes for a stunning way to develop characters in a very short amount of time and to keep the reader engaged as they work to figure out what EXACTLY happened.

While there are some pretty heavy elements to the overall theme, I dare to say it - this was kind of fun.
Author 1 book9 followers
December 27, 2021
William Inge is a playwright from my hometown and one after my own heart and mind. Picnic is another example of what he does best, genuine Americana. The small town stupor and stagnation that plagues the mind like a kind of canker. Idealism, dreams, love and jealousy, acceptance and defiance. What does it mean to be young? To be old? At what age do your dreams die? Do you renounce them vocally or settle into the pattern of a life you never wanted? Do you take the risk? Jump on a freight train to the big city to bet on love so you're not stuck in the same small town with the same small prospects? In short, what does happiness cost us and how much are we willing to pay?
Profile Image for Dylan.
9 reviews
July 2, 2017
The play responsible for me quitting my job as a stage manager in college. Pointless, and completely irrelevant trash. No real expression of anything, just characters rambling on about nothing. Always hate when people jump on the bandwagon of some piece of "art" and say it's great because they've been conditioned to say it's great by other so-called experts. Then, without really analyzing it for themselves, they say it's great too and think they've become individual and thus superior to the rest of the people who haven't wasted their time with it.
Profile Image for Rita.
74 reviews38 followers
January 18, 2021

I had to read this play for my acting class and i absolutely LOVED IT.
It's very much character driven, which is always my favorite and the way every single woman has a different personality and is strong in their own way is just incredible.
There's obviously the touch of sexism, specially from Flo to Madge and Millie, but it was also written in 1953, so there isn't much else to be expected...
Profile Image for Janay Brazier.
235 reviews20 followers
May 12, 2018
I’ve been meaning to read this play for so long and I’m so glad that I finally got around to it. It was a lovely, small town American play that I enjoyed reading. It took me less than two hours to read so it was a nice, quick read too. I wish I could see this on stage. I wish I’d seen the New York version starring Sebastian Stan too.
Profile Image for Cheryl  Collins.
216 reviews1 follower
May 5, 2021
An interesting play about women in the 50's. It focuses on three age groups of women and their personal attitudes about women. It makes you think a lot about the role of women as well as how they were looked at not only by men, but by fellow women. I found myself very depressed and angry after reading the play.
Profile Image for Tom Musbach.
115 reviews
November 17, 2021
Glad to finally read this classic American play. A handsome drifter makes an impact on several women in a small-town neighborhood, and it doesn’t bode well for some of them. Love makes people do some ill-advised things, and the repercussions linger. (8.5)
188 reviews1 follower
August 22, 2019
“I never knew what the feeling was. Why didn’t someone tell me?”

A good play with small ambitions that is almost exclusively just about love.
Profile Image for Lissa.
510 reviews6 followers
January 2, 2020
Read it on Labor Day. As one does. For book club. With special guest actor perspective.
Profile Image for Mellanie C.
3,008 reviews3 followers
March 27, 2020
I read this back in my early college days when I was actually in this play. I can't remember my chgaracter's name (maybe it was Irma?), but she was one of the spinster schoolteachers.
171 reviews
December 3, 2021
Very good play, only a little ages it. Several plots running, several destinies decided.
Profile Image for Brian McCann.
720 reviews2 followers
February 14, 2022
A great play. Great characters. Great arc.

A wonderful representation of a well-made play from Broadway’s golden age.
Profile Image for Allie.
1,391 reviews38 followers
February 16, 2022
I picked up the movie today and thought aw heck why not read the play too. I liked the play better! But also I don’t really like William Holden, so I was probably never going to love the movie.
Profile Image for Scull17.
269 reviews1 follower
July 12, 2022
I liked it and I would have liked it even better if it focused on Millie and someone had slapped that bitter old bitch Rosemary.
Profile Image for Sadie Hillier.
85 reviews3 followers
May 11, 2017
I would write you a review of this play, but instead I wrote a thesis on it. And I'm almost certain that no one on Goodreads wants to read that here.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 56 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.