Themes and Meanings
Barefoot in the Park is one of Neil Simon’s early attempts to deal with the individual not only in conflict with the person he most loves but also in a love-hate relationship with city life. What Corie and Paul, as well as Mrs. Banks and Velasco, must learn is that living with other people involves concessions.
The play opens with an empty apartment, a setting which suggests that there is a chance of establishing a home without prior conditions or preconceptions. Being human, the characters carry their baggage with them. The baggage is not simply the boxes and luggage which Corie and Paul bring to the apartment but also the emotional baggage that is brought to any relationship.
Corie is the sprite, the free spirit. “You jump into life,” her mother tells her. “Paul is like me. He looks first.” This conflict is the heart of the play: Paul’s conservative nature and Corie’s impulsive one are in direct contrast to each other. Neither individual has apparently had the opportunity to give; both are self-centered. What they must learn is that happiness in any relationship involves giving in order to receive. To underline this idea, the playwright presents the same ideas in the budding relationship between Mrs. Banks and Velasco. Mrs. Banks is conservative like Paul; Velasco embraces life as does Corie. Neither approach to life is complete in itself. It might also be noted that Simon does not stereotype the woman as the romantic and the man as the realist. Women and men are independent entities, but each needs the other in order to be fulfilled emotionally.
New York City is an element that often appears in Neil Simon’s plays. In his comedies, Simon usually gives the city an adversarial position. The city may test its inhabitants with six-floor walk-ups, radiators that do not work, and broken skylights, but as in human relationships, such hindrances can be overcome. It is through compromises and love that Simon’s characters endure.