Analysis

The latter half of Act II consists almost entirely of Harry Hope's birthday party. Character placement at this feast assumes great significance. As indicated in the stage directions, the duos of secondary characters have split apart—for example, Wetjoen and Lewis, Cora and Chuck, Mosher and McGloin. The drinking partner or co-conspiring intimate has becomes the first liability, the most humiliating judge and witness. As for the main characters, Hickey and Hope face one another from opposite ends of the table while Larry and Parritt occupy the central positions facing the viewer. Thus the four men from a frame of sorts: their stories that structure this tightly organized play.

The seating arrangement pairs the main characters according to their relations with the beloved object. Larry and Parritt's beloved is Parritt's mother, and their conflict with her revolves around the figure of the whore. Both jealously malign her as a whore for her rejection of monogamy. Certainly one could easily postulate the frustration of an incestuous or Oedipal desire behind Parritt's resentment in particular: as classically noted by Freud, the Mother all-too- easily becomes the whore in the mind of the child when involved with his perceived rivals. It is appropriate then that in one version Parritt's pipe dream, a self-deception as to his hatred for his mother, he betrays his mother for a whore—that is, a "free woman" who might serve as her double.

As noted earlier, Hickey and Hope share a relation with the beloved defined by ambivalence. Hope's ambivalence becomes explicit here when Hickey boldly laughs off his sighs over Bess. Though we have yet to see Hickey's fully developed, its unveiling is certainly prefigured in his calm indifference to Evelyn's death. He feels no grief over his wife. Indeed, he feels free, no longer caring about whether or not he is good enough according to some pipe dream. As we will see, this sense of peace lies in his violent liberation from his wife's judgment. In the final scene he will finally reveal his murderous hatred for his wife, a hatred doubled in the figure of Parritt.

The seating arrangement also indicates evokes Hickey's messianic/prophetic function in the play as well. Cyrus Day identifies a number of correspondences between the Hope's birthday celebration and the scene of The Last Supper. These include the twelve disciples of Hickey, the three women, the presence of Parritt as a suicidal Judas figure, the wine drinking, and the midnight hour. Day reads this evocation of the Last Supper as evidence that Hickey is a sort of "Anti- Christ," foretelling an apocalypse to come.

Similarly does Larry identify the feast's prophetic function in jesting that he is the divine hand from the feast of Belshazzar. Here he refers to a story from the Book of Daniel (5: 1–6, 25–8). Belshazzar, King of Babylon, gives a banquet for his nobles, blasphemously serving wine in the sacred vessels his father Nebuchadnezzar had looted from the Temple in Jerusalem. The vessel recalls the pipe dream when described in the play as a doomed ship or schooner. During the banquet, a divine hand appears and writes a prophecy on the wall a phrase only the prophet Daniel can decipher. It reads as follows: "God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting…" That very night Belshazzar is slain. In delivering the drunken guests to judgment, Hickey similarly foretells the kingdom's ruin. Note here the rhetoric of obviousness. The characters have to be blind not to read the writing on the wall, the obviously illusory nature of their pipe dreams.