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The Iceman Cometh

Summary Act I: Part three
Summary Act I: Part three


The centerpiece of conclusion of Act I is Hickey's visit. The scenes prior to his arrival also lay the groundwork main's characters' ambivalent relationship to women. Note the relevant motifs: the introduction of the whores, the emergence of the son's (Parritt's) resentment for a mother he implicitly accuses of whoring, the figure of the son who has been burnt by whores themselves, and the husband who takes quiet pleasure in the thought of his wife's misery. Certainly Hope's chuckle about Bess turning over in her grave is not lost on us. These motifs will circulate among the saloon's major players. Already Hickey prefigures this doubling in his intuition that he and Parritt belong to the same lodge.

Hickey then appears, playing savior to an unwilling flock. Once again, the dynamics of Hickey's arrival are largely guided by O'Neill's meticulous stage notes, which chart the subtle shifts in the group's affect as Hickey's intentions become clear.

Certainly the strangest aspect of Hickey's arrival is his sudden slump into sleep, a slump that makes it impossible for the group to return to its good- natured social intercourse. This slump, in which Hickey murmurs about the bliss of "real peace," evokes the motifs of death and sleep described above. Like the residents of Harry Hope's, Hickey crosses freely between sleep and consciousness. As we will see, his "sales pitch," that which would ostensibly demystify the group's pipe dreams, will reveal itself as a pipe dream of its own. Moreover, the call Hickey issues while falling asleep, "Rest in peace," also plays as a call to the grave. Thus Larry's warning that Hickey might be peddling poison. Certainly Mosher's snake oil doctor, though conjured to lift the group's spirit, is implicitly a double for this spiritual salesman as well. Again, the salvation Hickey promises will bring a kind of death, a demystification of the promise of future action upon which survival depends. As Hope complains, Hickey's gospel has placed him outside the community: Hickey has returned "Stone cold sober and dead to the world!" As Travis Bogard notes, Hickey closely parallels another of O'Neill's protagonists, Lazarus of Bethany, from his drama Lazarus Laughed. Here, a messianic figure appears preaching salvation to a world represented in microcosm by type characters. The recipients of the messiah's message prove resistant to it, and when it is forced upon them, prove incapable of adapting to it. In each, the messiah is set free to follow his own path to martyrdom by the murder of his wife. That path leads to the men's respective deaths by fire, whether at the stake and in the electric chair. Like Lazarus's message to rid men of fear and pain is that they should see life as illusory and relinquish the dreams that haunt them. Only then will they know the peace they instinctively seek. Like Lazarus, Hickey is a "messiah of death."