Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 509

The Odd Couple is a comic treatment of a serious theme: how human relationships can go wrong, especially when too much ego is involved. Felix and Oscar are both part of a failed marital relationship; while both readily admit to their shortcomings, they have too much self-love to believe that the failure actually resulted from any faults of their own. Although Felix enumerates the annoying traits that drove Frances to send him away, he cannot distance himself from his ego enough to see Frances’ point of view with any real conviction. Deep down, he believes that he is a better cook and housekeeper; therefore, Frances’ actions were unjustified and unfair. When Felix professes to hate himself for his past behavior, Oscar objects, “You don’t hate you. You love you. You think no one has problems like you.” Felix has learned nothing from his failed marriage; he continues making the same mistakes in his relationship with Oscar. Oscar is also guilty of too much self-love. His slovenliness and insensitivity to his former wife, Blanche, are just as self-centered as Felix’s fussiness. When they were married, Oscar thought nothing of waking Blanche up at three in the morning to fix his dinner. He burned holes in the furniture, was a heavy drinker, and for their tenth anniversary took Blanche to see a hockey game. His life is one of self-gratification; he is as extravagant as Felix is penny-pinching.

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Yet Oscar and Felix remain lovable and sympathetic characters, for Neil Simon succeeds in showing them as ordinary, vulnerable human beings. The audience is allowed glimpses of Oscar’s more sensitive side when he admits that he likes to bluff at poker. He bluffs in life, too. When Felix is reluctant to move in with him, Oscar finally admits that he cannot stand to be alone, despite his seemingly happy and carefree state. He lets down his mask of indifference and reveals some of the pain of his divorce. “When you walk into eight empty rooms every night it hits you in the face like a wet glove.”

Audiences react with compassion for Felix much as the Pigeon sisters do. Feelings of sympathy for Felix stem from his genuine love and concern for others. He sincerely loves Frances and his children, and he sincerely desires to help Oscar save money and bring some order to his life.

A secondary theme running through The Odd Couple is Simon’s belief in the value of compromise in relationships. By making the relationship between Oscar and Felix a parallel, or metaphor, for any marriage, Simon dramatizes his commitment to a social order achieved through moderation and compromise.

Each partner in this “marriage” must moderate his behavior to make the arrangement work; otherwise the relationship will end in “divorce,” as it does twice. Neither man has learned the value and rewards of compromise; each continues his self-absorbed life-style. Despite their failure, Simon upholds the value of marriage by showing the absurdity of selfish behavior, and by making audiences recognize, through humor, their own self-destructive behaviors.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1358

Order and Disorder
When two good friends newly separated from their wives decide to live together, the arrangement fails miserably because the two friends have personal habits and domestic lifestyles that are diametrically opposed. Felix likes to live in an extremely ordered and tidy living space while Oscar not only tolerates living in disorder and messiness but even seems to prefer it.

Simon is more interested in creating compelling character types and raucous laughter than he is in investigating ideas, but to the extent that The Odd Couple deals with theme it focuses on the friction between radically different personalities. There is never...

(The entire section contains 1867 words.)

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  • Characters
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