The story of the fiery girl Carmen and her jealous lover Don Jose begins in Seville, about 1830 (Bleiler 40). Carmen is a gypsy girl working at a cigarette factory and also belongs to a band of gypsy smugglers and criminals. She is loved by men and despised by women. Don Jose is a corporal in the Dragoons of Navarre who was forced into the army after either killing a man or badly injuring him, he falls for Carmen after his first encounter with her (Bleiler 40). Escamillo is a toreador, who is cherished by all and also falls for Carmen the first time he lays eyes on her. Micaela is a peasant girl form Navarre who is in love with Don Jose and lives with his mother to help take care of her. Don Jose's mother deperatley wants the two of them to get married. Zuniga is a lieutenant in the army with Don Jose; he is very smug and arrogant. Morales is also a corporal in the army as well, giving new phrase to the word flirtatious. Other characters include Frasquita and Mercedes, gypsy friends of Carmen, Dancairo and Remendado, both smugglers and criminals.
The story begins in the square just outside the cigarette factory in front of the guardhouse. There, the soldiers are hanging around waiting for the factory girls to come back to work. A young woman in a blue skirt and long blonde braids arrives asking Morales if he knows where she could find Corporal Don Jose (Bleiler 40). Morales informs Micaela that he is in another division, but will be back soon, so Micaela tells him she will be back when Don Jose's shift starts. When Don Jose arrives Morales let him know that a young women with Micaela's description was looking for him. Don Jose immediately knows whom Morales is talking about and takes his post at the guardhouse. Meanwhile the factory bells rings and hordes of men line the square awaiting the arrival of the girls as they go back to work. The men and women flirt together until Carmen strolls in nonchalantly dressed in gypsy attire with a flower between her teeth (Bleiler 41).