A group of alcoholics wait in a saloon for their friend Hickey to arrive and make them feel good about their miserable lives. Harry Hope runs a saloon and boarding house for unemployed drunks in Greenwich Village. The various men spend their waking hours drinking as much as possible to make their lives bearable. Harry, who hasn't left the bar in the 20 years since his wife's death, is having a birthday party soon, and the whole assemblage is awaiting the arrival of Hickey, a traveling salesman who stops in the bar whenever he is in town. Hickey is a charismatic individual whose mere presence can start a party. Even Harry says that when Hickey arrives, he'll take a walk around the block.
Each man in the group has his own story and his own delusions about himself and his future. Pat McGloin is a disgraced police officer who swears he will return to the force. Joe always tells everyone that he will soon reopen the casino he lost. Cecil and Piet, two war veterans, regale their friends with tales of their homelands and talk about their plans to return. Each man voices his dreams but only sinks further into drunkenness.
Hickey arrives sober and elated. He says that sobriety has given him a new perspective on life and challenges the group to give up their drink. Eventually, Hickey reveals that he killed his wife, but that he did so out of love. Police arrive, apparently having been called by Hickey himself, and wait while the man explains his actions. Hickey grew up the son of a hillbilly preacher who didn't like the boy and prevented him from seeing his girlfriend, Evelyn. Hickey grew up and married Evelyn after establishing himself as a successful salesman. Years of whoring and wild living are forgiving by Evelyn. Hickey resented her for gently accepting his wrongdoing, and murdered her to free her from what he interpreted as horrible pain at his infidelity. Present-day Hickey realizes that everyone has false notions of reality like his wife's false belief that he was a good man. He repents, realizing that these pipe dreams are what keeps us alive and begs that his murder of Evelyn be seen as a moment of insanity, though he changes his mind and begs for the death penalty.
Hickey is carted off and all the other characters return to their drunkenness and delusions, except for two. Joe goes upstairs to kill himself by throwing himself out of his window. Larry, a former political radical, concludes that he will never be a success and that life is too much for him, leaving to presumably commit suicide as well.
Best part of story, including ending:
Now, 100 years after it was written, this play seems to have more grit and substance than a lot of contemporary plays. Very relevant, I think.
Best scene in story:
I like when the harried Hickey arrives and blows everybody's socks off, before they figure out exactly what's going on with him.
Opinion about the main character:
I like Hickey's mad intensity. His monologues are funny and outrageous.