The Iceman Cometh
by Eugene O’Neill
Analysis: Plot Analysis
Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.
Exposition (Initial Situation)
Down and Out in Harry Hope’s
The regulars and tenants of Harry Hope’s bar and boarding house sleep off their hangovers, avoid the newcomer Don Parritt, talk about their pipe dreams, and anxiously await the arrival of Theodore “Hickey” Hickman. This sets up the depressing state of Harry’s and the drunks who dwell there, and it builds an expectation for Hickey’s entrance. Truth be told, things are actually kind of funny at the top of the show.
Rising Action (Conflict, Complication)
Follow Your Dreams… Kind Of
Hickey pesters, prods, and manipulates the group into following the dreams they always talk about, knowing full well they will fail to achieve them. Keep in mind that the play doesn’t follow the classic plot model perfectly and that the action dips and builds throughout Hickey’s stay at Harry’s. That said, the conflict Hickey causes amongst the regulars disrupts the status quo of Harry’s and sends most of them out the door. When they return, it seems like nothing will ever be the same.
Climax (Crisis, Turning Point)
Death of a Salesman’s Wife
Hickey admits he killed his wife Evelyn! This isn’t your typical climax. It involves a long monologue and not much action, but Hickey’s admission enables most of the regulars to return to the lifestyle they thought Hickey had ruined for good.
Exit Hickey and Parritt
Hickey gets carted off to jail and Parritt commits suicide. In a lot of books and plays, a major character’s suicide would serve as the climax, but here Parritt’s leap to death goes unnoticed by everyone except Larry.
Larry stares out into the metaphorical void as everyone drinks, sings, and celebrates the fact that they can lead their lives as they always have. With Hickey headed to jail and Parritt dead, our protagonist Larry is the only one who has really undergone any kind of change.