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The Iceman Cometh

Eugene O'Neill

Act III: Part two

Act III: Part one

Act IV: Part one

Summary

Willie calculatingly approaches Parritt, offering his legal services for the trial that most certainly awaits him. Parritt protests his innocence, once again primarily to Larry. Larry attempts to silence him, refusing to pass judgment. Asking for a drink, Larry superstitiously laughs that Death is certainly the Iceman Hickey has called forth.

Mosher and McGloin appear, pledging to return to their jobs. Like the others, they nearly brawl in the course of deriding each other's pipe dreams. A gaudy Cora enters to fetch Chuck. She invites the group to the wedding, but they remain sunk their own apprehensions. They leave hastily to avoid Hickey.

Hope and Jimmy then appear with Hickey on their heels. Both put forth a show of self-assurance but look like condemned men. Hickey chides them against postponing the day's events. One must kill the tomorrow dream to make peace with oneself. Hickey prods the rest of the group out of the saloon. Jimmy makes a last attempt at putting of his visit to the newspaper until tomorrow but to no avail. He tosses his drink at Hickey in futile fury and bursts out the door.

Hickey now fixes on Hope. Though Hope expresses misgivings about the cars outside and how his excursion might disgrace Bess's memory, Hickey remains relentless in disabusing him of his illusions. Hope storms out while Rocky watches on in excitement.

Hickey turns on the embittered Larry. Larry admits with self-loathing that his drinking and posture of detachment only conceal his fear of death. Parritt cheers Hickey on. Hickey again insists that the two men, Parritt and Larry, must settle with each other.

Rocky, who has been at the window, announces in disgust that Harry is coming back. Hope returns and pleadingly insists that an automobile almost ran him over. Only Larry will assent to his lie. Hope collapses within himself, feeling like a corpse. He turns to Hugo to offer him a drink and Hugo rouses himself and observes that Hope looks dead. He feels the same. Harry begins to drink.

Bitterly Larry condemns Hickey: he has brought them the peace of death. For the first time Hickey loses his temper and insists that the shock is only temporary and peace will follow. Hope's sudden melancholy worries him. Larry insists that Hickey reveal what happened to him and asks how Evelyn died. Hickey quietly informs him that she did not kill herself, but she was murdered.

Larry shrinks back in horror as he understands Hickey's confession. He insists that no one ask any more questions. Parritt springs to his feet and stammers defensively that "she" cannot be dead.

Analysis

Hickey delivers the residents up to their executions. The violence in his gospel becomes more explicit than ever, Hickey calling for the pipe dream's murder. As he remarks, everyone is bound to fail today and that failure is precisely the point. Larry knows all too well that the murder of the pipe dream is his friends' death sentence. Thus he laughs sardonically: "Death was the Iceman Hickey called to his home!"

According to Dudley Nichols, the figure of the Iceman evokes a popular bawdy story of the husband who called upstairs to his wife, "Has the iceman come yet?" The answer: "No, but he's breathing hard." The end of an era for the iceman as folk hero was marked by a song of minor popularity in vaudeville whose refrain went: "The Frigidaire can never replace the Iceman." Like the traveling salesman, Hickey being a salesman himself, the Iceman had a certain folk mythic dimension in American smoking-car jokes. O'Neill appropriates this figure and its mythic dimension to produce a modern Grim Reaper; Travis Bogard associates with the name with the chill of the morgue.

The corpse in this scene is Hope, whose sudden apathy and mechanical attempt to drink himself into a stupor, foreshadows the return of the saloon's residents as wax-like zombies. Notably, Hope slumps before Hugo, who observes his corpse-like appearance and confesses to feeling dead himself. This moment of mirroring prefigures Hope's metamorphosis into a Hugo-like figure in the following act. Hope will monotonously issue the same, exasperated plaints, demanding that Hickey shut up and whining that he has somehow taken the life out of the booze.

Hugo himself suffers from the demystification of his pipe dream. His revolutionary fervor only covers over a violent desire to lead, conquer, and even tyrannize the masses. In the echoes between these various pipe dreams and their underlying desires, Hugo's tyranny casts further suspicions on Hickey's gospel as to their possible aggressive intentions. These possible intentions are particularly significant here as this scene culminates in Hickey's first confession of murder. The group's familiar response, an attempt to silence the speaker, only defers its inevitable articulation in the open. Again, the unspoken aggression in Hickey's relation to his wife appears in the reflection cast by his double Parritt and his feelings for his beloved mother. Defensively Parritt stammers that his mother cannot be dead. At this point, the spectator knows how much he might desire that death himself. As we will see in the final scene, Hickey shares a similar desire with regards to Evelyn as well.

As he has throughout the play, Larry stubbornly attempts to keep Parritt at bay, refusing to know his crime. Parritt would force him into the position of judge, a position from which, as the grandstanding Foolsopher, he has definitively renounced. As we will see in the final scene, this engagement with the world, this brutal assumption of responsibility will only make Larry desire death more. While the others might return to their pipe dreams, he will remain the only "real convert" to death Hickey has made, albeit one still too afraid to leave his life.

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