Analysis: What's Up With the Ending?
Parritt lies dead and undiscovered outside. Hickey has been carted off to jail. Larry claims he is the only “real convert to death Hickey made here” (4), Harry yells for Larry to come get drunk, and then Hugo bursts into Carmagnole, the French Revolutionary song he’s so fond of singing. The others pound their glasses and laugh, while Larry stares off unaware of the cacophony swirling around him.
For those of us raised on good old Hollywood endings, the close of The Iceman Cometh might come as a bit of a surprise. Nobody realizes their dream. Nobody benefits from Hickey’s words and manipulations. Instead, those that are still alive find contentment in returning to exactly the way things were. With the ending of the play, O’Neill allows the reader or the audience to imagine that the sun will rise and the next day at the bar will be just like all the other days before it.
The one catch is Larry. Larry spends the entire play claiming he’s beyond the pipe dreams of the future and the nostalgia for the past. He only waits for death. Of course, Hickey points out that this really isn’t the case at all.
In the end, though, one gets the sense that Larry has now become the thing he claimed to be from the beginning. There is truly nothing left for him but death, and he knows it, but he also knows that he is too much of a coward to take any action. Is he destined now just to sit and stare and wait, unable to find even joy in drinking and mocking the others like he did before?
Ultimately, one man commits suicide, one heads to jail for the murder of his wife, and one realizes that he’s stuck in the world with no desire to live. See, not much of a Hollywood ending, but pretty much par-for-the-course as far as O’Neill goes.