Study Guide

The Iceman Cometh Defeat

By Eugene O’Neill

Defeat

LARRY: That’s because it’s the last harbor. No one here has to worry about where they’re going next, because there is no farther they can go. (1)

Is there something comforting about this level of defeat? What good can come from being at the absolute bottom?

LARRY: When you’re damned like that, the questions multiply for you until in the end it’s all question and no answer. (1)

Here, Larry gets pretty close to what he’s looking for. He says he’s out of the game and doesn’t care about anything and all that, but this suggests that he really just wants an answer to some of the big questions. The “Why are we here?” type questions. At the end of the play, he realizes that he’ll forever be seeing both sides of everything. This means that he’ll never really have an answer, he’ll just weigh one possibility against another. It’s not easy being Larry, people.

LARRY: I’ve nothing left to give, and I want to be left alone, and I’ll thank you to keep your life to yourself. (1)

Right off the bat, O’Neill has Larry drop some serious defeatist talk on us. In actuality, though, this makes Larry's turn at the end seem even more of a defeat. It turns out he really did have a little hope or care or something, but it all gets wiped out.

LARRY: “Lo, sleep is good; better is death; in sooth,/The best of all were never to be born.” (1)

Why would Larry choose this extremely uplifting poem to quote? Leave it to Larry to come up with something even more depressing than death...

PARRITT: But what the hell does it matter to you? You’re in the grandstand. You’re through with life. (1)

Larry tells the others a lot that he’s through with life, but Parritt doesn’t really buy it. If Parritt thought this was true about Larry, he would stop trying to get Larry to help him. That might make the play a little shorter, but the payoff just wouldn’t be the same.

HICKEY: He’s lost all his guts. He can’t manage it alone, and you’re the only one he can turn to. (2)

Hickey knows that it’s a sense of defeat that connects Larry and Parritt, whether Larry wants to help the kid out or not. In the end, this faint connection between the two leads Larry to finally tell Parritt what he’s been wanting to hear. Of course, things don’t go real well after that.

PARRITT: Larry. I haven’t a single friend left in the world. (2)

The people at Harry’s are pretty fond of building themselves up and telling stories about their lives that make them seem way better off than they really are. Parritt, the newcomer, comes pretty clean on this one, though. Sure, he makes up lies about what he did to his mother and why he did it, but this actually seems like a moment of real honesty from the kid.

HARRY HOPE: Let’s all pass out. Who the hell cares? (3)

There’s nothing left to do, so they might as well give up, get drunk, and sleep through the rest of their day...er, lives. It’s simple, classic defeatism, and it kind of sums up the spirit of Harry Hope’s. Once again, Eugene O’Neill really knows how to cheer everybody up.

HARRY HOPE: Bejees, what did you do to the booze, Hickey? There’s no damned life left in it. (3)

Harry reaches his lowest point when not even booze can help him escape the failure of his life. From the minute the play starts, the need for alcohol drives these people, so when they lose that crutch, things just totally collapse for them.

PARRITT: I can see now it’s the only possible way I can ever get free from her. (4)

Just like with Hickey, it’s guilt that gets Parritt in the end. Okay, so a few other things get Hickey, too, but guilt is definitely a big one. For Parritt, guilt looms so large that he’d rather die than live with it.