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In The Prisoner of Second Avenue by Neil Simon, what does Mel want?

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krsaka | eNotes Newbie

Posted July 15, 2009 at 10:58 PM via web

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In The Prisoner of Second Avenue by Neil Simon, what does Mel want?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted August 19, 2013 at 2:58 PM (Answer #1)

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Neil Simon, the premiere comedic playwright, writes about life in New York City.  In his play The Prisoner of Second Avenue, Simon presents an unforgettable couple---Edna and Mel Edison--- who after many successful years as New Yorkers discover that life has many twists and turns. 

Mel has been a high powered advertising executive for many years. In middle age, he seems no longer effective in his job---at least, that is what his boss believes.  He is fired from his job and appears to be caught in the web of “what terrible thing is going to happen next.” Mel’s position was his identity.  Now, what is he going to do with his life?

What does Mel want from life? He would really like to return to his life before being fired.  His life becomes completely intolerable for him.  Edna has to go back to work…leaving Mel to do the household chores.  He wants to be the breadwinner and also to be the hero in Edna’s eyes. Mel wants to be in charge of his life again.

After he loses his job, Mel begins to see all of the problems that he faces---noisy neighbors, the stench of garbage, unbearable heat, rampant crime---and he begins to believe that he is prisoner in his own apartment.  

The walls in the apartment are thin and his neighbors really annoy him.  He has a run-in with them. After yelling at neighbors about their activities, they pour water on him on his balcony. New York is having a garbage strike and a terrific heat wave.  None of these things help Mel’s mental state. 

Probably, the worst thing that happens to the couple is that they are robbed in broad daylight.  The criminals take everything of value including Mel’s suits.  Mel’s precarious mental state sends him into a tail spin ending in a nervous breakdown.

Mel:

You don't know what it is to be in my place... You've never stood in line for two hours waiting for an unemployment check with a shirt and tie...You never walked into your own building and had a ninety-one-year-old doorman with no teeth, asthma, and beer on his breath giggle at you because he's working. You've never been on your own terrace and gotten hit with a bucket of ice-cold ice water. They can get your clothes, Edna…your Valium, your television, your Red Label Whisky, your job, they can get everything. But they can't get your brains. That's my secret weapon. That and the snow.

With the help of his loving wife and his brother Harry.  His sisters are also important as support for their baby brother.  The play speaks to triumphing over adversity and paranoia.  Although initially the couple are prisoners of their attitudes and circumstances, Mel and Edna do rise again.

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