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Act II begins in the back room of Harry Hope's toward midnight of the same day. The room has been prepared for the party; the washing of the walls has only heightened their leprous look. The tarts finish arranging the room; Chuck, Larry, and Rocky look on; and Hugo slumbers in his usual position. There is something forced about their cheerfulness, an undercurrent of irritation and apprehensiveness.
The tarts and their men bicker. Rocky pins their irritability on Hickey—indeed, everyone has taken to their rooms to flee his preaching. In defiance to Hickey's suggestion that their marriage would not work, Cora and Chuck have decided to marry tomorrow. Pearl, Margie, and Rocky mock their friends. Cora calls Pearl a whore, and they lunge at each other.
When Rocky restrains Pearl, she and Margie accuse him of considering them whores too. Cora adjusts her alliances and sides with the girls. Pearl and Margie continue: if they are whores, Rocky is certainly a pimp. Bewildered by their defiance, he slaps them both.
Larry bursts into a sardonic laugh. The group immediately turns on him: Hickey certainly has his number too. Larry ignores them and wakes Hugo: the revolution has come on account of Hickey, the great Nihilist. Hugo denounces him and sings the Carmagnole. He complains Hickey has been on him as well, accusing of truly wanting to tyrannize the masses. The group continues to harass Larry. Though wounded, he moves to mollify them and goes on to wonder why Hickey has kept his conversion experience from the group thus far. Cora speculates that his wife might have finally cheated on him.
At that moment, Joe enters defiantly and pours himself a drink. Hickey has been on him as well. When Rocky defends Hickey from Joe's criticism, Joe reacts violently. They agree with Hickey, as he is white. Incidentally, none of them should think that he is pretending to be what he is not or ashamed of what he is. Chuck and Joe almost brawl. The group quickly makes up anew.
Larry broodingly muses to himself that Hickey seems to be dying to tell them something, just like that damned Parritt. Suddenly Hickey makes another grand entrance, his arms filled with boxes of champagne. He teases Larry. Although he puzzles over his conversion, he will have to find peace like the others. He leads the rest of the preparations, alternately pleasing the group with the apparent return of his old self and wounding them with references to their pipe dreams.
Hickey is the personification of alcohol in The Iceman Cometh. If you are not well-versed in the traits of the disease of alcoholism, you will miss this plot device. It takes Hickey a long time to arrive (not until the 2nd Act), because the barflys are dying for a drink, and they are all too broke to afford to buy booze themselves, so the wait seems interminable. When Hickey arrives, he is fresh and clean, and full of promise of a better future. He promises freedom from failure and a complete change of mind so that ... Read more→
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