Study Guide

Don Parritt in The Iceman Cometh

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Don Parritt

By far the youngest of the bunch, the eighteen-year-old Parritt enters Harry’s as a complete stranger to everyone except Larry and Hugo. His relationship with Larry sounds a bit like something out of a soap opera, but it’s a really important relationship, so let’s take a look at it.

Larry loved Parritt’s mother when Parritt was a little boy. Of the many guys Parritt’s mom was with, Larry was the only one that ever treated the young Parritt with any respect. Because of this, Parritt came to view Larry as a father figure. He even wonders if Larry is his real dad. It’s left ambiguous, but we’re led to believe that Larry is not his real father, although Parritt grew up thinking of him that way.

Now, Parritt needs Larry’s help. Turns out that dear old mom was pretty serious in the anarchy business until someone on the inside sold her out and got her sent to jail. Parritt, remembering Larry like a dad, believes Larry has something to offer him. Early on, we don’t know if Parritt is looking for protection, or words of wisdom, or what? We just know Larry wants nothing to do with the kid’s problems.

He's Shifty and He's Shady

Parritt instantly puts the regulars in the bar on edge. This happens partly because he’s a stranger, and partly because he’s just kind of a jerk. Parritt asks strange questions, pries into their business, acts like he belongs, and gets kind of judgmental, which isn’t cool. Parritt also seems to harbor a complete distrust of the women who come to the bar. Needless to say, this doesn’t make them too happy.

While Parritt lacks charm and comes off as untrustworthy at every turn, O’Neill tries to at least make it possible for the reader or audience to sympathize with him by making him lonely, lost, and in need of guidance. Directors often try to get the audience on Parritt’s side by casting famously handsome actors like Robert Redford. This ultimately doesn’t help though, because we find out what Parritt has done and that he is driven entirely by a looming sense of guilt.

In the beginning, we think that he truly just wants help from Larry. As one who has also given up the Anarchism Cause, Larry offers Parritt an example of how one might escape the past and start over. Of course, Parritt really needs Larry to serve as his confessor.

He admits to Larry that he sold out his own mother, but he doesn’t know how to deal with it. “I can’t go on like this! I’ve got to know what I ought to do,” he screams at Larry (4). And by the way, he sold out his own mother? That’s what criminals in movies use as an example of the worst thing you could ever do. You know, “I’d sell out my own mother to get my hands on that zillion dollar diamond!” or something like that. Parritt actually did that.

In Parritt, O’Neill manages to highlight another deep insight into the human psyche, which is that we all seek our own punishment. Sure, Hickey turns himself in, but O’Neill goes much further with this when it comes to Parritt. In Parritt, we see a young man who ultimately needs to hear that he doesn’t deserve to live. He comes to Larry seeking redemption, but somewhere in the back of his mind he knows that his redemption can only come through death. He just needs Larry, the man whom he mistakenly considers a father figure, to tell him what he already knows.

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