The Iceman Cometh

by: Eugene O'Neill

Act IV: Part two

Analysis

The play's denouement consists of two confessions and two death sentences: Hickey's and Parritt's. Hickey's confession, an attempt to assure himself of the truth of his peace, finally reveals his secret. Hickey hates his martyr-wife Evelyn and her pipe dream of his reformation. As the stage notes indicate, this revelation shocks him out of his nightmare. Incidentally, note how up to its very revelation is the reality of Hickey's hatred is set at a distance from him, and he hears himself condemn his wife to death rather than issue that condemnation directly. He then immediately pleads his insanity, allowing Hope and the others to revive their own delusions in the hopes that they will help him continue to evade his guilt. Disabused of the pipe dream of Evelyn's salvation, that is, the dream that allowed him to evade his guilt, he submits himself to the law and welcomes his death sentence. Note that Hickey calls the police himself and thus in some sense makes his speech to deliver himself to justice.

In his case, however, the law cannot offer the appropriate punishment. Here the law appears in the figure of two outsiders who cannot comprehend what has just come to pass. Thus they hear Hickey's pathetic pleas of insanity, pleas that would allow him to evade his guilty conscience, as an attempt to evade legal justice. Their emphasis on this form of justice underscores that the punishment they offer is for Hickey's crime against the law, his act of murder rather than that of his hatred.

Justice will be meted out for the crime of hatred in the case of Hickey's double, Parritt. Hickey's confession enables Parritt to make his own confession. He hated his pipe-dreaming mother, betraying her in an act of vengeance. He too has no pipe dream left and wants to die. This confession tears Larry from his grandstand. Unable to conceal his hate behind a pose of detachment, he sends him to the death others have jokingly suggested for himself throughout the play. It is not for nothing that this death involves a fall, since Parritt's suicide invites speculation on the other tropes of falling in the play, whether the fall from the pipe dream, or the fallen angel.

The last scene of the play divides the space as follows: the majority of the group return to their festivities, since Hickey's departure brings a sort of second birthday party, while Larry and Hugo sit at the window, the former waiting. The terrible suspense mounts. Hope jubilantly declares the crowd "cockeyed," and Larry shuts his eyes in eyes in concentration. Whereas the group has returned to their blind delusions, Larry divests himself of his Foolosopher eyes to bear witness to Parritt's demise.

The play then closes with the cacophony of songs that gives way to the chorus in unison, "The days grow hot in Babylon! 'Tis cool beneath the willow trees." Hugo has delivered this refrain throughout the play and it is in some way emblematic of the pipe dream. Thus, this final vocal arrangement grimly dramatizes the organizing principle of the play. The characters' myriad tales find voice in the leitmotif of the pipe dream. The invocation of Babylon also recalls Larry's comment at Hope's birthday party on the feast of Belshazzar. Despite the festivities, the writing Hickey has left on the wall remains, condemning the group to ruin.