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Literary Analysis Neil Simon “The Odd Couple” Essay

My essay will analyze Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple, which first appeared on Broadway at the Plymouth Theatre in New York City in 1965 starring Art Carney (Felix Unger) and Walter Matthau (Oscar Madison). I will employ a literary analysis which focuses on the principle male character, setting, and theme to gain a more formal understanding of this story. 1. 2 Overview Figure 1: The Odd Couple, Play by Neil Simon The Odd Couple concept began as a inspiration from Neil’s older brother Danny who was a neat person and after his divorce lived with a roommate who was extremely untidy.

It drove Danny crazy and of course his chats with Neil must have sown the seeds of success as Neil (with some assistance from Danny) began developing the script for The Odd Couple (1965). “I don’t write social and political plays, because I’ve always thought the family was the microcosm of what goes on in the world. ” (1) (Simon 1992) You can imagine the characters Felix and Oscar are based on a person or even a mixture of traits from different people that Neil Simon knew in his own life, namely his brother Danny in some ways and Danny’s messy roommate.

Of course being the talented playwright, Neil embellished both characters with even bigger personalities and flaws to create the drama and comedy that is so brilliant in the The Odd Couple (1965). 2. Author’s Biography 2. 1 Early Years Marvin Neil Simon was born on 4 July 1927, (American Independence Day) in ‘the country’ as the Bronx, New York was called in those days into a Jewish American family. A note from a local’s memoir paints a picture of the times that Neil Simon grew up in. “Kerosene was our main source of energy, used for cooking and heating.

Our school bus was a horse and covered wagon that picked us up at Eastchester Road and Needham Avenue. ” (2) (Constantine 1920) Neil became known as ‘Doc’ because he was interested in toy stethoscopes but his real love was comedy and he loved to laugh. His father Irving was in the garment trade and his mother Mamie worked at times to help support the family. Neil’s older brother Danny was a true friend and they shared the love of comedy and writing maybe to get over the pain of their parent’s early divorce. 2. 2 Youthful Pursuits

The young Neil Simon first attended the children’s Dalton School, and later attended De Witt Clinton High School in the Bronx. After a brief stay at New York University, Neil sought employment as a mailroom clerk with Warner Brothers but was soon able to pursue his childhood love of writing by joining forces with his brother Danny. The two brothers wrote radio and television scripts for CBS and stand up comedians. Neil’s favorite comedians Robert Benchley (1889–1945) and Ring Lardner (1885–1933) were influential on his career of writing comedy because of the way they made embarrassing situations funny and saw humor in humanity.

2. 3 The Man behind the Mirth In 1960 Neil Simon decided playwriting might be more inspiring than writing for television and it was to be a valuable and rewarding decision. After producing Come Blow Your Horn (1963) and the famous Barefoot in the Park (1967), Neil’s play The Odd Couple (1965) won accolades in the arts community. However the person behind the playwright was trying to cope with life and his sad childhood through his writing and his analysis of the human spirit.

His reflections brought resolve to the painful memories of his father’s absence and through his writing and plays that depicted social dramas in lighter perspective Neil peeled away his fears and phobias like peeling an onion. 2. 4 Legacy- what is he doing now? Neil Simon is a legend and at the amazing age of 83 this year; but is he still writing? His 30th play was Proposals (1997) which is set in the Poconos of the 1950’s and follows in the pattern of comedy drama. He wrote his second volume of memoirs, The Play Goes On (1999) as more of the outpouring of Neil’s past as he shares his life with the world.

The Odd Couple II (1998) was a hit as a sequel to the original play and starred Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. Incredible that Walter Matthau was the original Oscar way back in 1965. Figure 3: Neil Simon, renowned playwright (Chronicle 1995) The awards are numerous across the length of his 36 years of writing. Here are the awards just for The Odd Couple, the original play (1965). Tony Award Best Play – “The Odd Couple” Tony Award Best Play – Best Actor in Play Tony Award Best Play – Best Scenic Design Tony Award Best Play – Best Direction of a Play Tony Award Best Play – Best Author (Play)

3. Body Analysis 3. 1 Principle male character It is obvious to me who is the principle (lead) male character in The Odd Couple – it has to be Felix because the play wouldn’t be the same without this character. Felix is an effeminate male, a rarity amongst men, who actually enjoys housekeeping, cleaning, cooking and looking after a home as much as any woman would; in fact he enjoys it even more. Neil Simon’s crafting of Felix and Oscar is incredibly talented and intuitive as both characters are ideal specimens of the ‘perfect male’ and the ‘typical (imperfect) male’.

I presume Felix to be the perfect male only because women are usually looking for a man who loves to keep house, and he’d be delighted to share in all the household duties. The only problem is he’d end up driving the women up the wall because his perfectionism would make him want to take over everything because in his eyes no-one else does it better! “Simon’s characters may attack one another – does not think against society; he thinks with it, observing and recording the deliriums of the middle class. ” (3) (Lahr 2010)

As I stated the play, which later became a hit sitcom , had the zest and sparkle that Felix puts into it as he taunts his roommate and friend Oscar Madison with every move he makes. From the moment Oscar enters a scene there is interaction and laughter as the messy and ineffectual Oscar deals with life in the realm of perfection according to Felix! In today’s context of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) the character Felix would be a perfect candidate. However this light hearted comedy isn’t negative on the pyshcological factors around the character’s traits – he’s just Felix!

Oscar described Felix as “the only man in the world with clenched hair. ” (4) (NY Times 2010) Felix Unger is effeminate but he isn’t gay and that’s an important difference to how this play or sitcom would be offered in the twenty first century. Men just don’t behave like Felix behaves unless they’re gay, it’s just not normal. The beauty of life in the 1960’s and the ‘flower power’ hippie revolution was that people could be what they wanted to be without being judged as much as nowadays. It’s also true that Simon’s portrayal of Felix was so cleverley mastered that he could show his masculinity as well as his softer side.

Felix was a perfectionist in everything he did and enjoyed being fit and didn’t smoke (like Oscar did), he drank in moderation, he didn’t gamble and he enjoyed the cultural arts. All of these traits were exactly opposite to Oscar’s behaviour patterns so the characters were perfect foils as total opposites. I think Oscar could be viewed as Felix’s alter ego because even though they argue and don’t agree with each other’s way of life Felix and Oscar were still great friends. Although Felix is a perfectionist, he isn’t perfect though and has so many annoying traits that really make Oscar crazy.

For instance Felix is also a hypocondriac which is shown in a funny way, but he has a sinus problem that causes him to make strange snorting noises as he cleans his nasal passages! Felix cleans everything – even the telephone after Oscars uses it! Felix tidys Oscar by straitening his tie or wiping his coat if there’s dust on it! Felix believes everyone should do things his way and goes on and on about it! They may be small idosyncracies but add them up and you can imagine what it would be like for Oscar living with Felix. The wonderful imagery of this adds up to great comedy, witty dialogue, playful interaction, and lots of laughter.

3. 2 Setting The play, The Odd Couple, is set in Neil Simon’s hometown of New York; a city that never sleeps, a city that probably has a million Felix and Oscar characters. The opening scene is an apartment in New York City on a hot summer night. The apartment is the former abode of Oscar Madison and his wife but since she left him, Oscar has been living a messy batchelor’s life and the place is full of dirty dishes, glass, and ashtrays because Oscar smokes cigars. 3. 3 Theme The overall theme of the play is two divorced men who have been friends when married and decide to share an apartment after both are divorced.

Oscar Madison is a New York City sportswriter and not the most refined person. He loves gambling and the opening scene shows Oscar and his friends playing poker table in the apartment. A mutual friend Felix Unger is late to join in the game. They were soon to find out that Felix’s wife had called for divorce and Felix, a hypochondriac, is morose and the night turns into Oscar trying to console Felix after the others go home. In a moment of what Oscar might refer to later as insanity, he asks Felix to move into the apartment with him.

Felix agrees and soon asserts his domestic power over the amicable but not impressed Oscar. It’s quite incredible how most of the play (and the following sitcom) is set in the apartment where Neil Simon has the characters under the microscope in a way, and the audience can analyse every step of the entertainment. The closing act, again in the now clean apartment, has Felix being told to move out by Oscar. The dejected Felix will be staying with girls in the same building who see him as ‘sensitive’ because he tells them he still misses his wife.

Felix promises to continue the poker game friendship and the punchline by Oscar is how he gets mad at his poker friends for not butting out their cigarettes properly, showing Felix’s good values have made an impression on him. 4. Conclusion Neil Simon has made an incredible mark on the world, creating scripts that are enduring, funny, emotional and uplifting. The list of his works include award winning, memorable, and cleverly written pieces of art which will remain a testament to the ‘boy from the Bronx’.

The Odd Couple (1965) original play became a part of America’s culture and Felix and Oscar are probably so well known that they seem like real people, rather than characters in a play. The story became a film, a sequel, and TV series that is even now playing on Foxtel in 2010 and still offering the kind of witty scenarios that made everyone laugh back in the 60’s. Naturally, this is all because of the genius of Neil Simon and as he writes, “The Play Goes On” ? Bibliography Brantley, Ben. “Misery Loves a Roommate . ” 28 Oct 2005. The New York Times. 12 May 2010 <http://www.

nytimes. com>. Bloom, Harold. Neil Simon. PA: Chelsea House, 2002. Brozan, Nadine. “Neil Simon. ” 1995. American Chronicle. com. 13 May 2010 <http://www. americanchronicle. com>. Constantine, Joseph A. “Memories of My Life in the Bronx During The 1920’s. ” Bronx Board. com. 10 April 2010 <http://www. bronxboard. com>. “Great American Humorists No. 2 Robert Benchley . ” 2009. Brightlightsfilm. com. 10 May 2010 <http://www. brightlightsfilm. com>. Gutman, Les. “”Swan Song? “. ” Oct 1997. CurtainUp DC Report. 13 May 2010 <http://www. curtainup. com>. Lahr, John. “Master of Revels.

” 3 May 2010. The New Yorker online magazine. 12 May 2010 <http://www. newyorker. com>. Lipton, James. “The Art of Theater No. 10. ” 1992. The Paris Review. 13 May 2010 <http://www. parisreview. com>. Simon, Neil. The Play Goes On: A Memoir. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999. Simon, Neil. 13 May 2010. The New York Times. 13 May 2010 <http://www. nytimes. com>. Simon, Neil. 2010. Encyclopaedia of World Biographies. 13 Apr 2010 <http:www. notablebiographies. com>. “What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder OCD. ” 2010. Healthy Place. com. 13 Apr 2010 <http://www. healthyplace.

com>. ? References Brantley, Ben. “Misery Loves a Roommate . ” 28 Oct 2005. The New York Times. 12 May 2010 <http://www. nytimes. com>. Brozan, Nadine. “Neil Simon. ” 1995. American Chronicle. com. 13 May 2010 <http://www. americanchronicle. com>. Constantine, Joseph A. “Memories of My Life in the Bronx During The 1920’s. ” Bronx Board. com. 10 April 2010 <http://www. bronxboard. com>. “Great American Humorists No. 2 Robert Benchley . ” 2009. Brightlightsfilm. com. 10 May 2010 <http://www. brightlightsfilm. com>. Gutman, Les. “”Swan Song? “. ” Oct 1997. CurtainUp DC Report.

13 May 2010 <http://www. curtainup. com>. Lahr, John. “Master of Revels. ” 3 May 2010. The New Yorker online magazine. 12 May 2010 <http://www. newyorker. com>. Lipton, James. “The Art of Theater No. 10. ” 1992. The Paris Review. 13 May 2010 <http://www. parisreview. com>. “Neil Simon. ” 13 May 2010. The New York Times. 13 May 2010 <http://www. nytimes. com>. “Neil Simon . ” 2010. Encyclopaedia of World Biographies. 13 Apr 2010 <http:www. notablebiographies. com>. “What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder OCD. ” 2010. Healthy Place. com. 13 Apr 2010 <http://www. healthyplace. com>.


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