Barefoot in the Park by Neil Simon portrays and analyzes, although through comedy, the complex dynamics and issues in romantic relationship. The play examines the misunderstandings and miscommunication that often occur in serious romantic relationships, especially in marriages.
The main characters—a young couple recently married—personify the common issues in a marriage. The wife tries her best to make their relationship romantic and interesting, whilst the husband is distant and predictable. The wife exerts effort into making the marriage work, whilst the husband would rather focus on his career aspirations.
In the second act, the tension and various conflicts between them leads to divorce. In the third act, the warring ex-lovers still fight over post-marriage matters, which are trivial and petty.
This illustrates the modern American marriage in which the male and female build a relationship on compromises and sacrifices. If viewed as an analogy, the modern American marriage dynamic is similar to a business transaction in which services or goods are traded, debts are tallied, and credit is analyzed.
On the other spectrum, Corie's mother falls in love with Victor Velasco, a man who is the opposite of Paul: adventurous and romantic. In the end, Paul proves to Corie that he is not the man she first thought by walking barefoot through a snow-covered park, and the two reunite and fall in love again.
This illustrates that relationships are based on how we project our ideals and illusions of a perfect relationship on to the partner. Ethel falls in love with Victor, because he is her image of a wonderful partner. On the other end, Corie fell out of love with Paul, because he did not meet her expectations or image of a wonderful partner.
Barefoot in the Park begins with Corie Bratter’s rapturous examination of her empty apartment. She is interrupted by Harry Pepper, a repairman who has come to install the Bratters’ new telephone. Not only is it a six-flight climb, but also the apartment is extremely cold because it has no working heating system. After the repairman leaves, Paul Bratter arrives, out of breath and freezing. He is twenty-six, conservative, and very excited about getting his first court case. Because of this assignment, however, there will be little time to celebrate being in the new apartment. The only things that distract Paul are the apartment’s temperature and the large hole in the skylight.
Mrs. Ethel Banks, Corie’s widowed mother, is an unexpected guest; she is not especially captivated by the apartment, although she tries to disguise her disappointment. Mrs. Banks is at loose ends; her life has no direction. Before she leaves, Mrs. Banks is given a firm piece of advice by Corie: She must plunge into life in the hope of finding someone to love.
Paul returns from an errand with news about the denizens of the building, especially Victor Velasco, who lives in the attic. After Paul begins working on his brief, Corie, left alone in the living room, meets Velasco, who has come to ask permission to use their bedroom window as a path to his apartment, which has been locked because he is behind with the rent. He immediately charms Corie, who realizes that she has found a dinner companion for her mother. Act 1 ends with Corie making dinner plans and a stunned Paul watching through the skylight as Velasco carefully makes his way along the outside ledge to his apartment.
The first scene of act 2 begins on a Friday evening four days later. The apartment is almost completely furnished, though in an eclectic style. Corie rushes in, followed by Paul, who has not had the most pleasant of days and is hardly in the mood for a social evening. It is he who warns Corie that pairing her mother with Velasco might not be a particularly good idea, because not only is her mother not expecting a...
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- Critical Essays