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The Iceman Cometh

The Iceman Cometh


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Description for THE ICEMAN COMETH by Eugene O'Neill:

The Iceman Cometh is set in Harry Hope's decidedly downmarket Greenwich Village saloon and rooming house, in 1912. The patrons, who are all men except for three women who are prostitutes, are all dead-end alcoholics who spend every possible moment seeking oblivion in each others' company and trying to con or wheedle free drinks from Harry and the bartenders. They tend to focus much of their anticipation on the semi-regular visits of the salesman Theodore Hickman, known to them as Hickey. When Hickey finishes a tour of his business territory, which is apparently a wide expanse of the West Coast, he typically turns up at the saloon and starts the party. As the play opens, the regulars are expecting Hickey to turn up soon and plan to throw Harry a surprise birthday party. The entire first act introduces the various characters and shows them bickering amongst each other, showing just how drunk and delusional they are, all the while waiting for the arrival of Hickey.

Finally Hickey arrives and his behavior throws the other characters into turmoil. He insists, with as much charisma as ever, but now together with the zeal of a recent convert, that he sees life clearly now as never before, because he is sober. Hickey wants the characters to cast away their delusions and embrace the hopelessness of their fates. He takes on this task with a near-maniacal fervor. How he goes about his mission, how the other characters respond, and their efforts to find out what has wrought this change in Hickey take over four hours to resolve.

During and after Harry's birthday party most seem to have been somewhat affected by Hickey's ramblings. Larry pretends to be unaffected but, when Don reveals he was the informant responsible for the arrest of his own mother (Larry's former girlfriend), Larry rages at him; Willie decides McGloin's appeal will be his first case and Rocky admits he is a pimp.

Eventually, they all return and are jolted by a sudden revelation. Hickey, who had earlier told the other characters first that his wife had died and then that she was murdered, admits that he is the one who actually killed her. The police arrive, apparently called by Hickey himself, and Hickey justifies the murder in a dramatic monologue, saying that he did it out of love for her. When Hickey was a child his father made a living as an evangelist, which led Hickey to become a salesman. He met his wife, Evelyn, and Evelyn's family forbade her to associate with Hickey, which she ignored. After Hickey left to become a salesman he promised he would marry Evelyn as soon as he was able. He became a successful salesman, then sent for her and the two were very happy until Hickey got tired of his wife always forgiving him for his whore-mongering and began to feel guilty. He next recounts how he taunted her and, in realizing he said this, realizes that he went insane and that people need their empty dreams to keep them going. The others agree and decide to testify for insanity during Hickey's trial despite Hickey begging them to let him get the death sentence.

The others all go back to their empty promises and pipe dreams except for Don and Larry. Don runs up to his room with the intention of jumping off the fire escape. Larry grimaces and listens at the window with his eyes closed. Don jumps and Larry's eyes are opened to the reality of his situation ("Be God, there's no hope! I'll never be a success...Life is too much for me!") and he is left wishing at last for his own death.

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