Neil Simon's Use of Conflicting Personality Traits for HumorEssay

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Neil Simon's "Barefoot in the Park" was published more than 50 years ago but remains a popular American comedy. One reason is the humorously contrasting personalities of the play's main characters, Paul and Corie. Corie is enthusiastic and impulsive while Paul is pragmatic, logical and level-headed. These personality characteristics become even more obvious when Corie and Paul are dealing directly with each other throughout the play.

One of the main sources of comedy in Neil Simon's "Barefoot in the Park" is the contrast between the personalities of the two main characters. Paul and Corie Bratter are young, married, very much in love but also nearly opposite in personality. Paul is pragmatic, logical and level-headed while Corie is enthusiastic and impulsive. What is more, their personality traits become even more obvious when they interact with each other. Simon uses contrast very well in this play and its popularity continues more than 50 years after its publication.

Corie is enthusiastic and impulsive. She is enthusiastic about the new apartment despite all its faults, yelling down the stairs to Paul, "Now Honey, don't expect too much The furniture didn't get here yet and the paint didn't come out exactly right, but I think it's going to be beautiful…" (Simon 112). Even as Paul points out all the problems with the new apartment, including its lack of heat because of a nonworking radiator and a hole in the skylight, Corie remains enthusiastic about their new home: "I'm going to keep you warm and there's no charge for the electricity" (Simon 121). Corey is also enthusiastic about her elderly mother's possible life, saying, "Mother, the whole world has just opened up to you. Why don't you travel? You've got the time, the luggage. All you need are the shots" (Simon 133). The prospect of matching her mother with the wild Mr. Velasco also excites Corie: "I found love…spiritual, emotional, and physical love. And I don't think anyone on earth should be without it" (Simon 134). Consequently, when her mother is stunned and worried about the surprise blind date with Mr. Velasco, Corie tries to cajole her into looking forward to the date: "If you'll just relax I know you'll have a perfectly nice evening." (There is a knock on the door). "Besides, it's too late. He's here" (Simon 156). Even when the eccentric Mr. Velasco suggests dinner in a strange Staten Island restaurant, Corie stays enthusiastic and tries to raise her mother's enthusiasm by saying, "What do you say, Mother? Do you feel adventurous?" And "Doesn't it sound wild, Mother?....I love it already" (Simon 163). Corie's natural enthusiasm seems relentless until the evening starts to reveal her more timid side.

Corie is also a highly impulsive woman. She is very impulsive about her relationship with Paul. She frequently talks about loving Paul very deeply but ending the relationship when things do not go her way: Paul's concentration on a case that is going to trial the next morning disappoints her and she says, "I'm trying to get you all hot and bothered and you're summing up for the jury. The whole marriage is over" (Simon 117); a normal marital spat makes her repeatedly refer to divorce when she says, "You don't consider this a crisis? Our whole marriage hangs in the balance" (Simon 178), "It's suddenly clear that you and I have absolutely nothing in common" (Simon 178), and "Well, you certainly don't think we're going to live here together, do you? After Tonight?" (Simon 180). She is also impulsive about other people's relationships, setting up her mother for a blind date with Mr. Velasco and planning to pretend that her mother was once an actress in order to impress Mr. Velasco (Simon 150). Time and time again through the play, Simon has Corie say and do things showing her enthusiasm and impulsiveness.

In sharp contrast to Corie, Paul is pragmatic, logical and level-headed. First, through his observations and explanations, the reader sees that Paul is pragmatic. Corie may fantasize about how beautiful the apartment will be but Paul realistically points out the many flaws of the apartment, starting with the six-flight climb: "It's six flights…did you know it's six flights?" (Simon 113). Also, when Corie remarks that one of the "flights" is actually a stoop, Paul gasps, "It may look like a stoop but it climbs like a flight" (Simon 113). Paul was also very practical about matching Corie's elderly mother with the eccentric Mr. Velasco: "Yeah well I've got news for you. This thing tonight has 'fiasco' written all over it… He wears Japanese kimonos and sleeps on rugs. Your mother wears a hair net and sleeps on a board" (Simon 148). Also, when Corie is trying to arouse enthusiasm about Mr. Velasco's suggestion of a Staten Island restaurant for dinner, Paul makes a very practical observation: "It'll be murder getting a cab now" (Simon 164). When Corie begins to criticize Paul for being too proper, staring at his coat all night when he was drunk, he pointed out the practical reason for staring at his coat, saying, "I was watching my coat because I saw someone else watching my coat…" (Simon 176). Furthermore, Corie's yo-yoing between eternal love and divorce drew practical responses from Paul: first, he did not believe she was actually thinking of divorce; and then he assessed the relationship and stated, "If our marriage hangs on breathing fish balls and poofla-poo pie, it's not worth saving…" (Simon 178). Very quickly after deciding the marriage was finished, Paul shifted into pragmatic-attorney mode toward Corie: "Now sit down!...Because there's a lot of legal and technical details to go through." (Simon 183). It seems that no matter the situation, Paul tries to take a realistic approach to it.

Paul is also logical. His approach to the cold in the apartment shows just how logical he is: he contrasts the warm hallway to the cold apartment, saying, "No, it was warm coming up the stairs." (He goes out the door into the hall) "See…It's nice and warm out here" (Simon 118); then, when Corie claims the apartment is colder because it is empty, Paul says, "The hall is empty too, but its warm out here" (Simon 118); as Paul feels an actual wind blow through the apartment, he looks for an even bigger reason for it, (Looking up, he glimpses the hole in the skylight)"…How's this for an answer? There's a hole in the skylight. (He points up) (Simon 120). Using logic and persistence, Paul finds the source(s) of the exceptionally cold apartment. After Paul realizes the source(s) of the cold, he rejects Corie's illogical suggestions for dealing with the cold and thinks of logical ways of dealing with it: when Corie suggests lighting a fire, Paul says, "A fire? You'd have to keep the flame going night and day…I'll call the landlord" (Simon 119); and when Corie suggests plugging the skylight hole, Paul gets up on the ladder and replies "How? How? That's twenty feet high" (Simon 120). Paul remains logical when Corie tries to be romantic and asks if Paul missed her that day: "How could I miss you ? You called me 8 times today. I don't talk to you that much when I'm home" (Simon 143). Finally, when Paul hears about Mr. Velasco's nickname, "The Bluebeard of 48th Street," Paul tries to logically decipher its meaning: "It either means that he's a practicing girl-attacker or else he's an old man with a blue beard" (Simon 136). In various situations, Simon consistently shows Paul's methodical, logical approach to problems and to other people.

Finally, Paul is level-headed. Despite his very young marriage and romantic wife, Paul has been given responsibility for a case that will be tried in the morning; consequently he becomes a working lawyer: "We'll spend tomorrow night together." (He crosses to railing and gets his attache case) "I hope I brought those affidavits" (Simon 116). Corie persists in her romantic advances toward Paul but Paul persists in his level-headed, businesslike way: (Looks through affidavits from the case; his mind has now turned completely legal) "Marshall had everything laid out when I was at the office…" (Simon 116). Corie still presses Paul to have a romantic evening with her but Paul will not be dissuaded from his work: "No, we can't do it tonight, because tonight I've got to work" (Simon 117). Another striking example of Paul's level-headedness is shown when Corie begins to insist that they are suddenly in relationship crisis: "What crisis? We're just yelling a little" (Simon 178). Through these and other examples, Simon shows that Paul is level-headed and composed.

3. Conclusion

Neil Simon's "Barefoot in the Park" uses the differences in Corie's and Paul's personalities to create humor. Corie is enthusiastic and impulsive, as Simon shows through her reactions to the apartment, Paul, her mother and Mr. Velasco. Meanwhile, Paul is pragmatic, logical and level-headed, as Simon shows through his observations… [END OF PREVIEW]

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