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The Iceman Cometh

Eugene O'Neill

Important Quotations Explained

Act IV: Part two

Key Facts

And then I saw I'd always known that was the only possible way to give her peace and free her from the misery of loving me. I saw it meant peace for me, too, knowing she was at peace. I felt as though a ton of guilt was lifted off my mind. I remember I stood by the bed and suddenly I had to laugh. I couldn't help it, and I knew Evelyn would forgive me. I remember I heard myself speaking to her, as if it was something I'd always wanted to say: "Well, you know what you can do with your pipe dream now, you damned bitch!"

Hickey confesses to Evelyn's murder toward the end of Act IV over and against the protests of his friends. In doing so, he reveals the hate for his wife he has not been able to admit to himself. In doing so, he exposes his gospel of salvation as its own pipe dream. According to this gospel, Evelyn's death liberates them both from the pipe dream of his reformation. Here Hickey reveals in spite of himself the murder as an act vengeance. Note how up until its revelation, he attempts to keep his hate at bay. For example, he hears himself, as if a distance, condemning Evelyn to death.

I'd get blind to world now if it was the Iceman of Death himself treating! (He stops, startedly, a superstitious awe coming into his face) What made me say that, I wonder. (With a sardonic laugh) Well, be God, it fits, for Death was the Iceman Hickey called to his home!

Larry conjures the specter of the Iceman in Act III. Hickey has spread his gospel throughout the saloon; its residents have been harassed into the murder of their pipe dreams. The phrase, "The Iceman Cometh," recalls the story of the wise and foolish virgins in Matthew 25:6 and its description of the coming of the Savior: "But at midnight there was a cry made, Behold the bridegroom cometh." The messianic figure of the play is certainly Hickey. As we will see in the subsequent act, this messiah does not bring salvation, but ruin. The demystification of these dreams will bring the saloon's residents to a sort of living death, reducing them to waxen automata. Moreover, this messiah's gospel emerges from the murder of his wife. Thus Larry notes: "Death was the Iceman Hickey called to his home!"

Capitalist svine! Stupid bourgeois monkeys! (He declaims) "The days grow hot, O Babylon!" (They all take it up and shout in enthusiastic jeering chorus) " 'Tis cool beneath they willow trees!"

The lines above close the play. The members of the saloon have returned to their carousing upon Hickey's "confession" of insanity and arrest; unbeknowst to them, Parritt has just committed suicide.

Here Hugo leads the group's cheer. Hugo has delivered his drunken, longing refrain on Babylon throughout the play. His monotonous, poignant, and ominous vision of Babylon represents the leitmotif of the pipe dream, the delusions continually rehearsed within the social theater of Hope's saloon. Here the residents sing the refrain in unison to close the play. This final vocal arrangement grimly dramatizes the primary organizing principle of the play. The characters' myriad of tales uniformly find voice in what Travis Bogard describes as the "essential action" of the pipe dream. The invocation of Babylon also recalls Larry's comment at Hope's birthday party on the feast of Belshazzar. Despite the festivities, the writing Hickey has left on the wall remains. The party appears condemned to the living death in which the play began.

I know you become such a coward that you'll grab at any lousy excuse to get out of killing your pipe dreams. And yet, as I've told you over and over, it's exactly those damned tomorrow dreams which keep you from making peace with yourself. So you've got to kill them like I did.

This excerpt from one of Hickey's many sermons to the saloon's residents comes in Act III. It summarizes his gospel. Man must kill his pipe dream or else suffer guiltily under its weight; only the destruction of tomorrow and confrontation with the reality of his desires will give him peace. Here especially the violence in Hickey's gospel becomes clear. Note also how his style unnerving combines that of the priest and traveling salesman. The spectator already hears the anxiety in Hickey's preaching, and desperately does he convince himself of its truth.

What's it matter if the truth is that their favoring breeze has the stink of nickel whiskey on its breath, and their sea is a growler of lager and ale, and their ships are long since looted and scuttled and sunk on the bottom? To hell with the truth! As the history of the world proves, the truth has no bearing on anything. It's irrelevant and immaterial, as the lawyers say. The lie of a pipe dream is what gives life to the whole misbegotten mad lot of us, drunk or sober.

Larry, the play's cynical "Foolsopher," makes this speech to Rocky in Act I, establishing the characters' state of being. All suffer from the pipe dream. Larry proclaims the pipe dream's necessity, saying that such illusions give life to the "misbegotten," be they drunk or sober. This speech poses him against Hickey, who understands Larry's sardonic pity as only serving to condemn man to the guilt his illusions inspire. It is also significant as it introduces the metaphor of the pipe dream as vessel, both the Ship of Fools as well as the schooner from which the dreamer drinks. This metaphor recurs throughout the play.

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