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The Iceman Cometh

Main Ideas Key Facts
Main Ideas 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.