The Iceman Cometh
by Eugene O’Neill
Analysis: Three-Act Plot Analysis
For a three-act plot analysis, put on your screenwriter’s hat. Moviemakers know the formula well: at the end of Act One, the main character is drawn in completely to a conflict. During Act Two, she is farthest away from her goals. At the end of Act Three, the story is resolved.
Let’s try to squeeze this four act play into the classic three act structure. It’s not a perfect fit with The Iceman Cometh, because so much talking goes on after the climax, which to be honest, is not the classic climax either. Also, a subtle build occurs throughout the play, so it’s not the straight three act progression that you might be used to. That said, we can still make it work.
O’Neill’s Act I works pretty nicely (but by no means perfectly) as a structural Act I. By the end of it, Hickey commits to changing the lives of the regulars at Harry’s.
The classic Act II encompasses O’Neill’s Acts II and III. Hickey convinces and manipulates most of the regulars into leaving the bar in order to follow their pipe dreams. When Harry returns from his failed trip into the neighborhood and appears ruined by the experience, it’s clear that he and the others who will soon return will no longer be the somewhat depressed but also somewhat satisfied drunks from the beginning of the play.
O’Neill’s Act IV functions a lot like the third act of a number of plays and books. Hickey admits he killed his wife, which allows most of the others to write off their experiences with him and return to their drinking, pipe dreaming ways. Parritt kills himself, and Larry is left as the only “convert to death Hickey made” (4).