Barefoot in the Park Summary and Study Guide

Neil Simon

Barefoot in the Park

  • 34-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 3 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by an English instructor with a PhD from NYU
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Barefoot in the Park Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 34-page guide for “Barefoot in the Park” by Neil Simon includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 3 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25  important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Finding Balance Between Extremes and Inflexibility as a Source of Relationship Conflict.

Plot Summary

Barefoot in the Park is a 1963 play by Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright Neil Simon. Born in the Bronx in 1927, Simon grew up during the Depression. Financial strains characteristic of the time caused tension in his parents’ marriage, and Simon sought escape at the movies, with comedic films in particular. Laughter and comedy served as emotional balms for him, as they do in his semi-autobiographical plays. His plays are often set in New York and revolve around relatable problems that everyday people face, especially in their interpersonal relationships.

Barefoot in the Park is one such example. It traces Paul and Corie Bratter’s difficult first week of marriage in their new apartment. Paul is a dour, straight-laced lawyer, while Corie is a free-spirited optimist with a zest for experiences. A parallel plot involves Corie setting up her staid mother, Ethel, with the Bratters’ adventurous neighbor, Victor Velasco.

Act One establishes the tension between Corie and Paul’s personalities. He focuses on the apartment’s problems—like there being no bathtub, a hole in the skylight, a finicky radiator, and untraditional neighbors, while Corie only sees the apartment’s charm and personality. He wants to spend the night preparing for his first court case, while Corie wants to do something wild and fun. Corie’s mother, Ethel Banks, drops in unexpectedly to inspect the new apartment. Her observations reveal she sees the apartment in the same terms as Paul, though she expresses enthusiasm to Corie. This places Ethel in a middle ground between the couple. Her temperament aligns with Paul’s, but she is able to accommodate Corie’s viewpoint. Corie wants her mother to find love, but on this point, Ethel resists, insisting that she is happy as she is.

The first act ends with the introduction of Victor Velasco, one of the untraditional neighbors Paul describes. Like Corie, he is adventurous but impractical. Four months behind on his rent, he needs to sneak into his apartment using Corie and Paul’s window ledge. Corie resolves to set up her mother and Victor on a surprise blind date.

Two scenes make up Act Two, the first at the beginning of Ethel and Victor’s blind date and the second at the end of it. The first scene opens with Corie preparing for the evening’s events. Paul returns home from work, and the couple’s difficulty relating to each other is immediately apparent. Corie carries on a conversation with him publicly as he climbs the five flights to their apartment, yet Paul longs to keep their personal affairs to themselves. Corie is hopeful and excited about the evening ahead, but Paul believes it will be a disaster because Ethel and Victor have nothing in common. Ethel arrives believing that she and the Bratters will be dining with Paul’s parents, and she becomes anxious when Corie reveals the evening’s true purpose. Victor arrives with an unusual and exacting dish called knichi, a dish which Simon made up for the play. Ethel attempts unsuccessfully to eat it as instructed, while Paul refuses to and Corie enjoys it. Each approach to knichi reveals the extent to which the character can engage altering approaches to life. The group decamps for dinner.

The second scene takes place at 2 a.m. as the group returns to the apartment drunk and overstuffed with the exotic food. The evening’s events energize Victor and Corie but leave Paul and Ethel drained and numb. Realizing that she has exceeded her limit, Ethel decides to call it a night, and Victor insists on driving her home. Corie’s enthusiastic endorsement of Victor’s offer, along with her seeming inattention to her mother’s feelings, makes Paul furious, and they argue. Corie accuses Paul of being incapable of fun. He is hurt and wants to retreat to sleep, but Corie cannot sleep when she is so distraught. She demands a divorce, and the couple ends the evening with Paul sleeping on the sofa and Corie locked in their bedroom.

Act Three takes place the following morning. Corie and Paul are barely speaking. The phone rings and Corie answers, seeming to be setting up a date. When Paul grabs the phone and demands to know who is speaking, he realizes it is a sales call. He calls Corie “a crazy lady” (77) and asks when she wants him out of the apartment. She tells him immediately, and he begins to pack his things, guzzling drinks and muttering to himself. Another phone call is Corie’s worried aunt who reports that Ethel never returned home the previous evening. Corie hurries upstairs to Victor’s apartment, then returns shortly after in a state of distress. She found her mother in Victor’s apartment wearing his bathrobe. Ethel rushes into the room to tell Corie she has misunderstood the situation. Paul ironically asks Corie if she is happy, then leaves. Victor comes looking for Ethel, and they laugh together about the mishaps of the previous evening. Victor invites her to dinner before he returns to his apartment to get ready.

Corie and her mother have a heart-to-heart. Ethel explains that she fainted the previous evening, a consequence of overdoing food and drink. Victor tried to carry her up to his apartment but fell and broke his foot. Neighbors carried them both upstairs, where they fell asleep. Corie reveals that she and Paul are getting divorced and that she realizes she should not have impulsively demanded he leave. She asks Ethel what she should do, and Ethel tells her she must compromise and not “make everything into a game” (88). She tells Corie to find Paul, and then she leaves for her date with Victor.

Paul returns to the apartment drunk, disheveled, and frozen, demanding that Corie be the one to leave the apartment. She notices he is running a fever and begins fussing over him, but Paul wants to be like the “crazyneighbors” (90). He chases Corie around the apartment, and she tells him she wants the old Paul back, the one who keeps her grounded and takes care of her. Determined to prove he can have fun, he climbs out onto the ledge but then panics. Corie tells him to stay stilland that she will come get him. He asks her what to do, and she tells him to sing. The play concludes with Paul and Corie having achieved a sense of equilibrium and mutual understanding, recognizing that each complements the other.

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Act I