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Odd Couple Essay, Research Paper
Themes and characters are most often the key factors that
influence a writer’s work. Most of the time the author has no control
over this influence. This is clearly shown in Neil Simon’s play, The
Odd Couple. Not only is Simon’s own life depicted in his play, but
also the lives of those close to him, can be parallel to his work. Neil
Simon’s life is depicted in his characters and themes of his play, The
Marvin Neil Simon was born in the Bronx on July 4, 1927. His
father, Irving, was a salesman in Manhattan’s garment district; his
mother Mamie worked in Gimbel’s department store. The family moved to
Washington Heights, in northern Manhattan, when Simon was young.
Irving was an errant husband who occasionally abandoned the family
altogether, leaving Mamie, a frustrated and bitter women, alone to deal
with Neil and his older brother Danny. Eventually, the parents were
divorced, and Neil went to live with relatives in Queens. From an
early age, he exhibited a quick wit and an active imagination. He
loved films and was often asked to leave the theater for laughing to
loud. In high school, Simon was sometimes ostracized as a Jew, an
experience that would later inform his work. Meanwhile, he and his
brother began collaborating on comedy material that they sold to
stand-up comics and radio announcers. Simon graduated from DeWitt
Clinton High School in 1944 at the age of sixteen(Magill2216).
He entered New York University under the US Army Airforce
Reserve Program. Throughout his military career, he wrote for
many military newspapers. Discharged in 1946, Simon took a job in the
mail room at Warner Brothers in New York, where Danny worked in the
publicity department. The brothers were soon hired to write for
Goodman Ace of CBS, and over the next decade they provided material for
many popular comedians. During the summers of 1952 and 1953, they
wrote sketches for a professional acting company at Camp Tamiment, in
At Camp Tamiment, Simon fell in love with a young actress named Joan
Baim, and the couple was married on September 30, 1953. Five years
later, Joan gave birth to a daughter, Ellen; a second daughter, Nancy,
was born in 1963(Magill2261).
2 In 1956, when Danny Simon moved to California to be a
television director, Neil stayed in New York and wrote for many
popular television shows. He also adapted broadway plays for
television. By the later 1950’s, however, he wanted more independence
than television writing could offer. He began writing a play of his
own. For three years, he wrote and revised his first full-length play,
Come Blow Your Horn. In 1965, Simon had a second smash hit with The
Odd Couple, which ran for two years and earned him his first Tony
In 1972, Simon faced an awful personal tragedy. His wife,
Joan, was diagnosed with cancer and after fifteen gruesome
months, she passed away. After twenty years of happy marriage, the
lost effected him deeply. Later that year, Neil met an actress named
Marcia Mason, who he later married. Although the marriage wasn’t as
special as it was with Joan, they had a good marriage that lasted nine
In 1974, Simon received a special Tony Award for his
contributions to the American theater. In 1983, he received a
singular honor. The Nederlander Organization renamed a broadway
theater after him.
By the 1990’s, through four decades of diligent writing, Simon
had developed great skill and technique. With the monumental
output already behind him, he has claimed his position in the history
of American theater(Magill2262).
The Odd Couple was Neil Simon’s second and one of his most
successful full- length plays. It opens when Oscar’s Friday
night poker game is interrupted by the news that Felix, one of the
game’s regulars, has left his wife after sending her a suicide
telegram. When Felix arrives, his every move is interpreted as a
suicide attempt. Oscar calms him down and suggests he moves in with
him. But Felix is a hyper- allergic, fanatic for organization and
cleanliness, while Oscar is a cigar-smoking, compulsive slob. The
characteristics that drove each of them to leave their wives soon have
them at each other’s throats. Although, they still feel it is a good
idea to live with each other in order to save money for alimony and
child support. Oscar tries to loosen
3 Felix up by inviting the neighboring Pigeon sisters to
dinner. Oscar promises Felix that he will be home at seven o’clock to
help him with dinner, but casually walks in the door close to eight.
Not to mention the girls are also late, all of which results in the
dinner being destroyed. The party turns out a disaster, and the next
day Oscar kicks out Felix because of the conflicting habits. This
causes Oscar a great deal of guilt to have to do this to his best
friend. Felix returns for his clothes later that night during the
poker game announcing that he is moving in with the Pigeon sisters.
Felix and Oscar discuss the happenings of the night before and the rift
in their friendship had been repaired. As the poker games resumes,
Oscar cautions his pals to use coasters and ashtrays. This shows the
effect Felix has had on Oscar in their short time living together.
Almost all literary work has been critiqued at some time or
another. This holds true for Neil Simon’s, The Odd Couple. In
the statement made by Edythe McGovern, “It really does not matter that
the two main characters, Oscar Madison and Felix Ungar, are both men.
They could be women, or they could be a married couple in the
traditional sense,” she feels that any relationship would’ve been
just(McGovern39). In the play, Oscar and Felix argue constantly, so
much that they could be labeled as acting like “an old married couple.
If they were actually married, this wouldn’t have such a humorous
value. This is proven in the quote from The Odd Couple:
“Felix: It’s so much harder on the women, Oscar. She’s all
alone with the kids. Stuck there in the house. She
can’t get out like me. I mean, where is she going to
find someone now her age? With two kids?”(Simon545).
This quote proves again the importance of Oscar and Felix both being
males. Simon presents his characters realistically and lets the laughs
come where they will when it becomes apparent that males when placed in
certain situations, behave in some ways that could be labeled as
feminine(McGovern38). This quote also proves Felix’s insecurity
towards his break-up. He must make himself feel that this is hurting
4 Frances, more than it is hurting him. It is obvious that it
is he who can’t “make it alone.”
“Felix has learned nothing from his failed marriage: he
continues making the same mistakes in his relationship with
Oscar(Bennet1160). This statement, made by critic Bennet, can go both
ways. Felix may still be making the same mistakes in his relationship
with Oscar, but that is only because neither is able to compromise,
especially Felix. On the other hand, Felix has learned something from
his failed marriage. This can be proven in the following quote from
The Odd Couple:
“Faults?……We have a maid who comes in to clean three times a week.
And on the other days, Frances does the cleaning. And at night, after
they’ve both cleaned up, I go in and clean the whole place again. I
loused up the marriage. Nothing was ever right. I used to recook
everything. The minute she walked out of the kitchen, I would add salt
or pepper. It’s not that I didn’t trust: it’s just that I was a better
cook.”(Simon549) >From his failed marriage, Felix has learned that he
is too particular about everything. He also knows that this is why
Frances left him, because he is aware of his faults but is powerless to
change his ways.
The Odd Couple, just like many other works of literature, can
be connected to events in the author’s life. Needless to say,
Neil Simon’s life greatly influenced the writing of his play, The Odd
Couple. To start off, the two main characters, Oscar Madison and Felix
Ungar, are based mainly on his brother Danny, and their mutual friend
Roy Gerber, respectively(Simon143).
“At about the same time Danny broke up with his wife, Arlene, Roy broke
up with his wife Connie. Their breakups led to a new union, more
famous and longer- lasting than their two marriages
5 This new union in many ways resembled the one of Felix and
Oscar. Danny was careful about his money and adored his children
dearly. He watched every penny he made as security for the future of
his two children, in many ways just like Felix. Roy on the other hand,
was a fun loving man who didn’t worry about organization and wasn’t too
careful with his money. The two men had alimony and child support to
pay. Danny thought it would be a good idea if him and Roy moved in
together to cut back on expenses(Simon143). A way that Simon himself
influences one of his characters, is his inability to share his
emotions. Oscar is presented in the same way, afraid to share his
Themes, as well as characters, are effected by the author’s
life. A main theme in The Odd Couple is importance of family.
This same theme often appears in the life of Neil Simon. When Neil was
a young boy, his father left him and the rest of his family. His
mother always seemed to indirectly blame Simon and Danny for this
misfortune. Simon didn’t have a prominent father figure, so by having
Felix perceived as a devoted father, he was making up for the lost love
and bond he could have shared with his father. Although Oscar isn’t a
bad father, he doesn’t seemed as attached to his children on the
outside. This could be a way for Simon to describe his
father(Simon145). Divorce is an important part in the significance of
family. Simon’s parents were divorced when he was a young boy. His
friends, brother, even himself were all divorced at least once. He had
been around divorce all of his life, which explains why it acts as such
an important part in his play.
All of Neil Simon’s plays, including The Odd Couple, are to
some extent a reflection of his life, sometimes
autobiographical, other times based on the experiences of those close
to him. Such elements that are effected by the author’s life are
themes and characters, as seen in The Odd Couple. When an individual
reads a play of Simon’s, although grounded in his own experience, you
are provided only a glimpse into the mind and soul of this private
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