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The Iceman Cometh

Eugene O'Neill


Key Facts

full title ·  The Iceman Cometh

author · Eugene O'Neill

type of work · Drama

genre · Tragedy

language · English

time and place written · Written in New York, 1939

date of first publication · 1940; first Broadway production in 1946

publisher · Random House, Inc.

narrator · None

point of view · Not applicable

tone · Tragic

tense · The play unfolds in the time of the present

setting (time) · Summer, 1912

setting (place) · The bar and back room at Harry Hope's saloon in the West side of downtown New York.

protagonists · Larry Slade

major conflict · Hickman has come to Harry Hope's saloon preaching a gospel of salvation. His drunken, washed-up friends should divest themselves of their "pipe dreams" of tomorrow and make peace with themselves. The demystification of these dreams, however, only brings ruin.

rising action ·  The Iceman Cometh does not adhere loyally to the Aristotelian model of plot and thus does not involve a structure of rising and falling action, climax, and catharsis. It does, however, gradually move toward the quasi-climatic confession of two crimes and their motives: Hickey's vengeful murder of his wife and Parritt's hateful betrayal of his mother.

climax · Hickey's confession to Evelyn's murder toward the end of Act IV.

falling action · Hickey's arrest and Parritt's suicide.

themes · The pipe dream, judgment, ambivalence

motifs · The chorus, Death and sleep, the refrain, the feast

symbols · The Iceman, the vessel

foreshadowing · The characters' respective falls upon the demystification of their pipe dreams as well as Hickey and Parritt's final confessions are prefigured from the beginning of the play.

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Alcohol personified

by jmjohnso, January 11, 2015

Alcohol Personified
Hickey is the personification of alcohol in The Iceman Cometh. If you are not well-versed in the traits of the disease of alcoholism, you will miss this plot device. It takes Hickey a long time to arrive (not until the 2nd Act), because the barflys are dying for a drink, and they are all too broke to afford to buy booze themselves, so the wait seems interminable. When Hickey arrives, he is fresh and clean, and full of promise of a better future. He promises freedom from failure and a complete change of mind so that ... Read more


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