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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 287

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...

(The entire section contains 1652 words.)

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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.

The Play

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 976

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 dinner companion, but she and Velasco also have very different ways of dealing with life.

Mrs. Banks arrives excited at the prospect of meeting Paul’s parents again—or so Corie has told her. Her blind date with Velasco is disclosed just as he arrives with a plate of exotic hors d’oeuvres. The evening gets off to a shaky start as the cocktail food upsets the stomachs of Paul and Mrs. Banks, both of them having had a bit too much to drink. Then the two couples proceed to one of Velasco’s favorite spots, an Albanian restaurant on Staten Island.

It is two o’clock in the morning when scene 2 begins. Velasco and Corie, who is wearing Velasco’s beret and scarf, rush in, singing “Shama . . . shama . . . ela mal kemama,” a song they heard in the restaurant. They head up to Velasco’s apartment to make coffee. Enter Paul and Mrs. Banks, numb from the entire evening. Velasco and Corie return, and he volunteers to see Mrs. Banks home.

Paul and Corie are finally alone long enough to assess not only the evening but also their life together in general. Their different ways of approaching life are discussed, and neither party is willing to compromise. Corie accuses Paul of not being able to enjoy himself, of being too proper and dignified. Her proof is Paul’s recent refusal to walk barefoot with her in Washington Square Park. All Paul can do is attempt to defend his way of life, a defense which results in Corie’s request for a divorce—even though her reasons for wanting it are all tied up in how much she really cares for Paul. She runs to their tiny bedroom, and Paul goes to bed on the sofa, under a sprinkling of snow that is falling through the hole in the skylight.

As act 3 begins, it is five o’clock in the afternoon the following day. Harry Pepper is there to reinstall the telephone that Paul pulled out of its socket the night before. Things are still very tense between the Bratters, and Harry leaves hurriedly. The telephone rings, and Corie learns that her mother has not come home. Corie and Paul’s argument is put on hold while Corie goes upstairs to Velasco’s apartment to inquire about her mother. Just as Paul leaves, Corie rushes back in, followed by her mother, whom Corie believes spent the night with Velasco.

Mrs. Banks quickly explains that she passed out on the street and that Velasco brought her back to his apartment, only to fall on the stairs himself. Velasco enters the apartment walking with a cane because of a broken toe. He tells everyone that he must curb his appetites: He can no longer be as physically active as he thought, and his diet must be simpler. Promising to share his plain meal that evening, Mrs. Banks makes her way out of the apartment. Before she leaves, though, she begs Corie to reconsider her decision to leave Paul.

Paul returns to the apartment without a coat and without his socks. No longer the fuddy-duddy, he has been walking barefoot in the park. In a reversal of attitude, Corie becomes the practical one, worrying about Paul’s health and state of mind: She admits that she wants the old Paul back. Paul furtively goes into the bedroom, reappearing on the ledge that has been Velasco’s path to his apartment. Suddenly frightened of what he has done and of where he is, Paul panics. Encouraging him to sing as loudly as he can, Corie rushes to his aid. The curtain falls as Paul begins singing “Shama shama. . . .”

Dramatic Devices

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 331

Barefoot in the Park does not incorporate unusual language, makeup, costuming, or plot. However, the play’s very ordinariness is its strength. Concentrating on human relationships in a realistic setting is what Simon’s writing is about—which is not to say that he has not found ways to illuminate the characters and their personalities.

New York City, though never really seen, is always present. The eclectic nature of the city is revealed through the neighbors who are and are not onstage. Certainly Velasco, with his charmingly idiosyncratic ways, is emblematic of the city as a whole.

The apartment is used in many ways. Its condition as Corie and Paul move in is a comment on the initial neutrality of the new marriage. After a few days, the apartment takes on the aspects of its new inhabitants. In fact, in his stage directions for act 2, scene 1, Simon describes the room’s furnishings and decorations in great detail: “although a pot-pourri of various periods, styles and prices,” the apartment is now “extremely tasteful and comfortable.” Perhaps the same might be said for the marriage.

The reactions of the characters to the city and especially to the apartment are highly significant. Paul and Mrs. Banks, conservative in nature, have actual physical reactions to the flights of stairs leading to the apartment; they also react strongly to the exotic food and drink available in the city. Corie and Velasco have no problems initially, but they are not completely typical of the city any more than Paul and Mrs. Banks are. By the end of the play, Paul has walked barefoot in the park, and Mrs. Banks has spent the night without her bed board. Similarly, the free-spirited Corie eventually lectures her mother and Paul about responsibility, and Velasco finds that he is not as young as he thought he was. These changing relationships are the means that Simon uses to show how very different people can learn to understand and identify with one another.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 58

Sources for Further Study

Johnson, Robert K. Neil Simon. Boston: Twayne, 1983.

Konas, Gary, ed. Neil Simon: A Casebook. New York: Garland, 1997.

McGovern, Edythe M. Neil Simon: A Critical Study. New York: Ungar, 1979.

The New Yorker. Review of Barefoot in the Park. November 2, 1963, 93.

Simon, Neil. Rewrites: A Memoir. New York: Touchstone, 1996.

Time. Review of Barefoot in the Park. November 1, 1963, 74.

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Critical Essays