Critical Analysis of Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh

Eugene O’Neill’s reputation as the United States’ “master of the misbegotten” culminates in his late masterpiece The Iceman Cometh. The action takes place in a downtown Manhattan saloon and “Raines-Law” hotel called Harry Hope’s and covers two days in the life of a motley assortment of anarchists, prostitutes, pimps, and war veterans, among a host of other “lost souls” hiding behind pipe dreams and alcoholism to shield themselves from the terrorizing realities of modern-day life. “In bomb shelters,” writes Travis Bogard, “men do not behave very differently, perhaps, from the way they behave in The Iceman Cometh” (421–422).

O’Neill wrote The Iceman Cometh at Tao House, his home in Danville, California, between June 8  and November 26, 1939, and completed a near-final draft in December 1939—one of the most  horrifying periods in modern history: Hitler’s army  invaded Poland and commenced a policy of genocide against Jews and other populations of Europe,  Great Britain and France subsequently declared war on Germany, the United States was still caught in the devastating throws of the Great Depression,  and the Far East had plunged into a gruesome conflict that would end with the atomic devastation of  Hiroshima and Nagasaki five years later. “The war news,” O’Neill wrote his daughter Oona O’Neill after completing The Iceman Cometh, “has affected my ability to concentrate on my job. With so much tragic drama happening in the world, it is hard to take theatre seriously” (O’Neill 508). Two weeks later, however, O’Neill wrote to producer Lawrence Langner: “I’m working again on something . . . after a lapse of several months spent with an ear glued to the radio for war news. You can’t keep a hop head off his dope for long!” (510). O’Neill coyly refers here to his tragic masterpiece Long Day’s Journey into Night.

O’Neill understood that The Iceman Cometh was probably the best play he had ever written, and he deliberately delayed production until after the war’s conclusion. In the war’s aftermath, he projected, the American public would experience a hangover of disillusionment on a national scale. Only then, he argued in a letter to his friend Dudley Nichols,  could audiences comprehend the thesis of The Iceman Cometh—that mankind requires life-sustaining  “pipe dreams” to endure the devastating realities of modern life:

No, The Iceman Cometh would be wrong now. A New York audience could neither see nor hear its meaning. The pity and tragedy of defensive pipe dreams would be deemed unpatriotic, and uninspired by the Atlantic Charter  [Churchill and Roosevelt’s vision of a post-war world order], even if the audience did catch that meaning. But after the war is over, I am afraid from present indications that American audiences will understand a lot of The Iceman Cometh only too well (O’Neill 537).

Unfortunately, the Theatre Guild premiere on October 9, 1946, at the Martin Beck Theater in New York City—O’Neill’s first since his Days Without End debacle in 1934 (a period that came to be known as the “silence”)—came too early and received mixed to poor reviews. Time magazine quipped that “as drama . . . for all its brooding, The Iceman was scarcely deeper than a puddle” (quoted in Diggins 62). Some critics, such as the novelist Mary McCarthy, struck an even more mean-spirited chord in their estimation: Likening the four-and-a-half-hour play  to “some stern piece of hardware . . . ugly, durable, mysteriously utilitarian,” McCarthy expanded  her attack to include an ad hominem critique of  O’Neill as an artist generally: “The return of a playwright who—to be frank—cannot write is a solemn  and sentimental occasion,” and she went on to compare O’Neill with other American writers such as Theodore Dreiser and James T. Farrell (both of whom O’Neill respected enormously), whose work “can find no reason for stopping, but go on and on, like elephants pacing in a zoo” (50).

Director and critic Eric Bentley—who, incredibly, directed the German-language premiere of  The Iceman Cometh—went so far as to call O’Neill stupid, if indirectly: “I still maintain that O’Neill is no thinker. He is so little a thinker, it is dangerous for him to think. To prove this you have only to look at the fruits of his thinking; his comparatively thoughtless plays are better. For a non-thinker he thinks too much” (48). In the face of such attacks, stalwart champions of O’Neill’s such as George  Jean Nathan took pains to defend the play’s artistry and power:

With the appearance of The Iceman Cometh, our theatre has become dramatically alive again. It makes most of the plays of other American playwrights produced during the more than twelve-year period of O’Neill’s absence look comparatively like so much damp tissue paper. It is, in short, one of the best of its author’s works and one that again firmly secures his position not only as the first of American dramatists but, with Shaw and O’Casey, one of the three really distinguished among the world’s living (133).

Such accolades must have provided little comfort to the playwright, but 10 years later, three years after O’Neill’s death and the same year that Long Day’s Journey into Night premiered, director José Quintero revived The Iceman Cometh in a now-legendary production with a brilliant cast, starring Jason Robards  as Theodore “Hickey” Hickman. Staged in the intimate atmosphere of the Circle in the Square Theatre, a former Greenwich Village nightclub, this  production lasted a full 565 performances (a record for O’Neill), effectively reviving O’Neill’s reputation as the finest American dramatist and igniting, along with the premiere of Long Day’s Journey, a Eugene O’Neill renaissance over the following decade. A number of well-regarded productions have been staged since, including the critically acclaimed Broadway production directed by Howard Davies and starring Kevin Spacey as Hickey (1999).

The Iceman Cometh/ Broadway Direct


O’Neill’s script begins with an unusual introductory paragraph describing the setting, Harry Hope’s saloon. He specifies that the location is a Raines-Law hotel on “the downtown West Side of New York.” New York’s Raines Law provided a loop-hole for serving liquor after hours and on Sundays at saloons like Harry’s that were located on the ground floor of tenement buildings if they offered rooms for rent on the upper floors and served food (see Raleigh “Historical Background” 1968, 59–60). The Raines Law was signed in 1896 as a measure to curb drinking and deviancy. Ironically enough, given there were rooms upstairs, the legislation inadvertently encouraged binge drinking and prostitution. At Harry Hope’s, “a cheap ginmill of the five-cent whiskey, last-resort variety,” the food consists of “a property sandwich in the middle of each table, an old desiccated ruin of dust-laden bread and mummified ham or cheese” reserved only for “the drunkest yokel from the sticks.” The Raines Law also stipulated that during off hours, booze must be served in a back room. Harry circumvents this by rigging a black curtain separating the rear of the barroom from the back room (3:563).

Act 1

An early morning in the summer of 1912 at Harry Hope’s saloon on the ground floor of a five-story tenement on the Lower West Side of Manhattan. A dingy black curtain separates the bar proper from the back room, in which circular bar tables are crammed tightly together. A sign on the door to the toilet in the left corner reads, “This is it.” Another door leads to the hallway back center. Its walls and ceiling are “now so splotched, pealed, stained and dusty that their color can best be described as dirty” (3:565). The bar stretches along the back wall, and the barroom contains one table with four chairs. A dull morning light glows softly from the  windows in the rear right, and wall-bracketed lighting illuminates the back room.

The seats and tables in the back room are occupied by a motley group of mostly middle-aged bar-flies, including Larry Slade, a 60-year-old Irish  American and former leader in the anarchist  movement who falsely claims he awaits the peaceful oblivion of death; Hugo Kalmar, an Eastern  European has been anarchist who deludes himself  that he continues to hold a vital role in “the Movement”; Piet “The General” Wetjoen, a former Boer  (Dutch colonialist) commander in the Boer War  (1899–1902, South Africa), who dreams of returning home to a hero’s welcome; Cecil “The Captain”  Lewis, Wetjoen’s former enemy from the British army but now his close friend who shares the Boer’s  dream; James “Jimmy Tomorrow” Cameron, a former war correspondent in the Boer War who insists  he will sober up and resume his journalism career “tomorrow”; Joe Mott, the only African American in the group and a onetime gangster and proprietor of a black gambling establishment who boasts of the time he will reopen his business; Pat McGloin, a corrupt member of the police force who was fired  for accepting bribes but still believes he will be reinstated; Ed Mosher, McGloin’s good friend, Harry  Hope’s brother-in-law, and a former circus man who ostensibly longs to rejoin the free and open life of the circus; Harry Hope, a onetime Tammany official (see Raleigh “Historical Background” 1968, 56–58) and proprietor of the bar who boasts of his connections in local politics and vows to take one  last walking tour of his old neighborhood; and Willie Oban, a Harvard Law School graduate in his  late 30s whose father was a notorious bucket-shop racketeer (fraudulent stock trader) and believes the city district attorney will one day hire him.

Larry Slade is the only one conscious. Rocky Pioggi, an Italian-American bartender in his late 20s, steps through the curtain from the bar at right. “A tough guy but sentimental in his way, and good-natured,” Rocky sneaks Larry a free drink, warning him not to wake up his boss, Harry Hope. The night before, Harry had ordered no more free  drinks “‘beginnin’ tomorrow,’” but Larry grins sardonically and acknowledges that Harry’s weakness for his friends is stronger than his desire for  profit. Harry’s threats about “tomorrow” reflect the general attitude of the barroom habitués, who all, according to Larry, share “a touching credulity concerning tomorrows” (3:569). Larry considers this “Tomorrow Movement” a kind of religion, in which “the lie of a pipe dream is what gives life to the whole misbegotten mad lot of us, drunk  or sober” (3:569–570). Larry, “the Old Foolosopher,” gave up on the “pipe dream” of the anarchist movement long ago, finally recognizing the  bitter truth that “men didn’t want to be saved from themselves, for that would mean they would have to give up greed, and they’ll never pay that price for liberty.” Hugo awakes briefly. “Don’t be a fool! Loan me a dollar!” (3:570) he screams at Larry, and promptly passes out.

Sleeping off their drunk from the previous night, they all await the arrival of Theodore “Hickey” Hickman, a traveling salesman, or “drummer,” who shows up each year to celebrate his old friend Harry Hope’s birthday. Universally adored by the patrons at Harry’s, Hickey buys them all drinks and elevates their spirits with his salesman’s wit and tall tales from the open road. In a repeated gag, Hickey weeps over a picture of his wife and then, Rocky explains, “springin’ it on yuh all of a sudden dat he left her in de hay wid de iceman” (3:571).

Willie Oban cries out in his sleep, “It’s a lie!” and “Papa! Papa!” (3:572). Rocky roughly shakes  him awake, but Harry Hope comes to and, contradicting his previous instructions, rebukes Rocky  for not giving Willie a drink. Joe Mott awakens  next and inquires about Don Parritt, an 18-year- old with ties to Larry and the “Movement” who  rented a room at Harry’s the previous night. Joe hopes Parritt might buy him a drink; when Larry says he is “broke,” Joe and Rocky testify that Parritt had a roll of money but denied it and refused  to buy anyone a drink, an unpardonable offense that earned him the epithet “tightwad.” Larry and Parritt’s mother, Rosa, were comrades in the “Movement.” Larry explains that several people were killed in an anarchist bombing on the West Coast, and Rosa was captured by the police; Larry predicts she will be condemned to life in prison. Parritt claims to have escaped capture in order to seek refuge and companionship with Larry. Though  he still respects Rosa, Larry claims he cares nothing for her, the “Movement,” Parritt’s trouble, or  anything else.

Parritt enters with a “shifting defiance and ingratiation in his light-blue eyes and an irritating aggressiveness  in his manner” (3:576). Larry introduces him to the bar. “It’s the No Chance Saloon,” Larry says, “It’s Bedrock Bar, The End of the Line Café, The Bottom of the Sea Rathskeller,” filled only with men who cling desperately to “a few harmless pipe dreams about their yesterdays and tomorrows,” though he singles himself out as “the exception” (3:577, 578). Larry suspects an insider in the “Movement” must have betrayed Rosa Parritt. When Parritt claims he “got wise [the Movement] was all a crazy pipe dream,” Larry inwardly feels there is something about this newcomer that “isn’t right” (3:582).

Hugo reawakens briefly and recites his favorite  lines from Ferdinand Freiligrath’s poem “Revolution”: “The days grow hot, O Babylon! ’Tis cool  beneath thy villow trees!” (3:583). He salutes Parritt, inquires about his mother (whom he also knew in the “Movement”), demands that Parritt buy him  a drink, and passes out. Larry describes each member of the “family circle of inmates” (3:585). Willie awakens and scolds Larry for leaving him out  of his “Who’s Who in Dypsomania” (3:585); Willie then expounds on his privileged background,  superior education, and the tactics of his criminal father who sent his son to law school in order to have a legal expert in his bucket-shop operation. He then belts out a bawdy folk song, awakening all the drunks and infuriating Harry. Threatened with removal, Willie pleads to stay and claims his room is haunted. Harry relents, once again blaming Rocky for his own threats.

Gradually gaining consciousness, the men begin to define their respective roles in the cloistered society of the bar. They all defer to Harry, whose truculent, irascible temperament is a facade that conceals a deep affection for his friends. Since his wife, Bessie, died 20 years before, Harry has never stepped foot outside the bar. Harry’s friends all know that Bessie was a horrible nag and that all Harry ever wanted was to drink with his barroom pals as much as he pleased and never again face the outside world.

Each character talks passionately about his  respective pipe dream. Each jibes the others good-naturedly about their delusions but takes offense if someone challenges his own. Pearl and Margie, “typical dollar street walkers,” enter the bar from their night’s work. Rocky is their pimp, but his pipe dream emerges in the presence of the two prostitutes—he takes issue with being regarded as  a “pimp” and considers himself a legitimate bartender; the women for their part consider themselves “tarts, but dat’s all” (3:602). Margie and  Pearl relate an anecdote wherein two men picked  them up that night, then got embroiled in a political argument—one being a “Bull Mooser” (Progressive Party followers of Theodore Roosevelt) and  the other a “Republican” (3:601; the Bull Moose party split from the Republicans after William Howard Taft beat Roosevelt for the Republican nomination)—and the hotel detective chased them away. They discuss Harry’s other bartender, Chuck Morello, who periodically goes on drinking benders and gets into brawls, and Cora, another prostitute. They scoff at “dat old pipe dream” of Chuck and Cora’s “about gettin’ married and settlin’ down on a farm” (3:602). Cora and Chuck enter. Parritt complains about the bar being a “hooker hangout” and declares he hates “every bitch that ever lived” (3:604). Parritt appeals to Larry for approval after such outbursts, but he never gets it. “I don’t want to know a damned thing about your business,” Larry grumbles (3:604).

Cora relates a story about “rolling” a drunken tourist, then informs the group that she and Chuck  met Hickey outside on the street corner, “‘just finishin’ figurin’ out,’ he told them, ‘de best way to  save dem and bring dem peace’” (3:606). Cora adds that Hickey appears uncharacteristically sober. Harry orders Rocky to fetch him and believes Hickey is planning a practical joke. They all agree to play along.

Rocky reenters with Hickey. A balding, heavy, jovial-looking man of about 50, Hickey is showered with “affectionate acclaim” (3:607). “Hello, Gang!” he  responds merrily. Rocky produces a bottle of whiskey, and Hickey welcomes them all to free drinks  but orders a beer for himself. Harry mocks him as a member of the Salvation Army and the newly elected president of the W.C.T.U. (the Women’s Christian Temperance Union). Hickey assures his old friends he has no interest in reforming them,  adding significantly that he quit drinking because he  “finally had the guts to face myself and throw overboard the damned lying pipe dream that’s been making me miserable” (3:609). He insists it is not booze  he wishes to liberate them from, but rather their pipe dreams. Throughout his monologue, the gang stares at him with “an uneasy resentment” (3:610).

“Be God, you’ve hit the nail on the head, Hickey!” Larry finally responds. “This dump is the Palace of Pipe Dreams!” (3:611). His enthusiasm dies out, however, when Hickey suggests that Larry,  “The Old Grandstand Foolosopher,” is no exception with his lies of welcoming death (3:611). Parritt howls in agreement, and Hickey regards the  stranger for the first time. He sizes Parritt up as “members of the same lodge” (3:612) for reasons he cannot account for. Having walked all the way from his home in Astoria, Queens, he begins yawning and  soon falls asleep. The men erupt into a fierce discussion of Hickey’s peculiar transformation. “He’ll be  a fine wet blanket to have around at my birthday!” Harry quips. “I wish to hell he’d never turned up!”  (3:614). But Ed Mosher assures him Hickey is simply overworked and will snap out of it; he recounts  an amusing anecdote about a quack doctor whose lifelong goal was to sell enough of his “miraculous  cure” that there “wouldn’t be a single vacant cemetery lot left in this glorious country” (3:616). The  group howls with laughter at the punch line that the doctor is dead but most probably selling snake oil on a street corner in heaven. “That’s the spirit,”  Hickey says groggily, “don’t let me be a wet blanket—all I want is to see you happy.” Their “puzzled,  resentful and uneasy” glares resume as Hickey falls back to sleep, and the curtain falls (3:616).

Act 2

Harry Hope’s back room, just before midnight on the eve of Harry’s birthday. The tables are arranged for a banquet, with 17 chairs and place settings; ribbons hang from the light brackets, and a birthday cake with six candles (one for each decade of Harry’s life) sits on a separate table right front. Cora, Chuck, Hugo, Larry, Margie, Pearl, and Rocky are discovered. Cora arranges a vase of  flowers while Margie and Pearl sort Harry’s presents and fuss over the cake. Hugo is passed out, and Larry sits facing front, with a whiskey before him, “in frowning, disturbed meditation” (3:617). They all want Harry’s party to come off well, but no one feels genuinely festive. Hickey has been irritating them all with passive-aggressive “hintin’ around” about each of their pipe dreams. Harry and Jimmy Tomorrow, in particular, have been “run ragged” by Hickey’s expostulations, and the  rest are still hiding in their rooms. Hickey’s influence has caused Rocky and Chuck to refer openly  to the women as whores. When the women call Rocky a pimp, he slaps them both hard. Larry “bursts into a sardonic laugh” (3:622). The sound awakens Hugo, and Larry warns him not to miss out on the revolution started by “the great Nihilist Hickey! He’s started a movement that’ll blow up the world!” (3:622). Hugo fumes over Hickey’s interference, then passes out.

Joe Mott enters with an air of defiance. “Listen to me, you white boys!” he shouts, “Don’t you get it in your heads I’s pretendin’ to be what I ain’t, or dat I ain’t proud to be what I is, get me?” (3:625). Joe’s anger subsides, and he blames Hickey for his ill humor. Larry assumes Hickey stopped drinking to hide the real reason for his conversion. Hickey silently enters and startles the group by bellowing, “Well! Well!! Well!!!” He carries a load of presents for Harry, and Margie and Pearl help to arrange them  on the table. Hickey refutes Larry’s theory, redirecting the topic to Larry’s own pipe dream of longing  for death. Rocky breaks Hickey’s spell—“Aw, hire a  church!” (3:627). Hickey resumes an infectious celebratory mood, bragging about buying treats that “will  please the whores more than anything” (3:627); he upsets the women by referring to them as “whores,” but an earnest apology brings them back around. Chuck and Rocky leave and reenter with Hickey’s basketful of champagne bottles.

Hickey turns on Hugo, backhandedly scoffing at his revolutionary cant. “Leave Hugo be!” shouts Larry, “He rotted ten years in prison for his faith! He’s earned his dream! Have you no decency or pity?” (3:628). Hickey contends that a true act of pity would relieve Hugo of his dream, just as it would for Larry—“all the grandstand Foolosopher bunk and the waiting for the Big Sleep stuff is a pipe dream.” When his dream dissolves, Hickey  goes on, “You’ll say to yourself, I’m just an old man who is scared of life, but even more scared of dying. So I’m keeping the drunk and hanging on to life at any price, and what of it? Then you’ll know what real peace means, Larry” (3:629). “Be God,” Larry retorts, “if I’m not beginning to think you’ve gone mad! (with a rush of anger) You’re a liar!” (3:629).  Hickey switches the topic to Parritt. Larry instinctively knows the source of the young man’s guilt  but refuses to share it or admit he cares.

Willie enters, sober and “in a pitiable state” (3:632). Now a Hickey convert, he plans to buy new clothes with Hickey’s money and then approach the district  attorney for a position. Larry advises he start drinking, which tempts Willie, but then he blurts out,  “That’s fine advice! I thought you were my friend!” (3:632), and he sulkily takes a seat alone. Joe and Cora are at the piano; Joe is teaching her how to play “The Sunshine of Paradise Alley.” Parritt enters, also complaining about Hickey, but with a paranoia not shared by the others. When Larry calls him a fool for listening, Parritt levels Hickey’s charge against him but guiltily lets up. Parritt believes Larry is the only man his mother truly loved, though she practiced “free love” with countless partners, making Parritt feel as if he grew up in a brothel. Larry excoriates Parritt for dishonoring his mother and threatens to leave. Parritt begs him to remain and returns to the subject of Hickey. “There’s something not human behind his damned grinning and kidding” (3:635); but he returns to his own case and begins to confess  his treachery. He rationalizes that studying American history made him realize that anarchism was  “a damned foreign pipe dream” that might destroy American democracy. Larry refuses to believe such high-minded principles motivated Parritt, but he repeats his lack of concern.

A fight erupts in the hallway. Rocky rushes to investigate and reenters with Lewis and Wetjoen,  both of whom are relatively sober. Hickey’s insinuations have led them to clash with one another;  each accepts Hickey’s line about the other’s pipe dream but violently defends his own. Ed Mosher  and Pat McGloin enter, complaining about Hickey’s effect on Harry; nevertheless, they have also  resolved to actively pursue their dreams. Harry enters with Jimmy Tomorrow. They all cheer in a “spiritless chorus” (3:640). Jimmy looks terrified, and Harry’s phony grouchiness has transformed into real bitterness. Hickey starts pumping his hand in congratulations, but Harry pulls away in a fury. He laces into Hickey, calling him a “sneaking, lying drummer” (3:641), then turns his wrath on the rest  of the party. He eventually lets up, and they happily forgive him.

When Jimmy recounts his tale of losing his wife, Marjorie, to another man during the Boer War, Hickey disabuses him of the pipe dream by telling him he was surely delighted to be rid of her so he could drink as much as he liked. Larry jumps at  this, suspecting Hickey’s transformation was precipitated by the iceman story coming to fruition.  Hickey verbally beats Larry into submission by remarking that if all their stories eventually come true, then Larry’s “Big Sleep” might too.

Rocky and Chuck serve schooners of champagne, and Hickey makes a sincere toast to Harry  but ruins it by toasting the end of all pipe dreams. He then calls for a speech from Harry. The old  proprietor begins modestly, but his anger uncontrollably rises. “I’m not running a damned orphan  asylum for bums and crooks! Nor a God-damned hooker shanty, either! Nor an Old Men’s Home for lousy Anarchist tramps that ought to be in jail! I’m sick of being played for a sucker!” (3:646). He concludes by vowing to take his walk through the  neighborhood. Hickey cheers him on, then apologizes for having been “a damned busy body” since  his arrival. But he tells them he is “slated to leave  on a trip” and wanted to help them before his departure. Larry demands to know if it was his wife leaving him that converted him to “this great peace”  (3:648). They all jeer at Hickey, believing Larry’s theory. Hickey accepts the attack good-naturedly, then reveals that his wife is dead. Guilt descends upon the crowd, and they beg his forgiveness, but  he declares he feels no remorse, that she was better off without “a no-good cheater and drunk”  like him. Everyone gapes at Hickey in “bewildered, incredulous confusion” as the curtain falls (3:650).

Act 3

Harry Hope’s barroom in the middle of the morning the following day. A section of the back room  is still visible, and the tables and chairs have been returned to the cluttered disarray of act 1. Above the mirror behind the bar hang photographs of the Irish Tammany leader Richard Croker and the Bowery politician “Big Tim” Sullivan, as well as  lithographs of the professional boxers John L. Sullivan and “Gentleman Jim” Corbett. Joe sweeps the  floor sullenly, ignoring the others, then begins slicing bread at the free lunch counter. Hugo is passed  out, and Larry, Rocky, and Parritt look tense and exhausted. Hickey kept everyone awake after the party, relentlessly preaching about their pipe dreams. Rocky challenges Larry to jump from his  fire escape if he truly welcomes death. Parritt seconds that, calling Larry a “yellow old faker” (3:653).  Rocky threatens to oust Parritt, but Larry calls him off. “He don’t belong,” Rocky says; then he yawns loudly and drifts off to sleep.

Parritt talks again about Larry’s importance to him in childhood. At one time he wondered if Larry was his father. He confesses to his betrayal, perversely admitting that his only reason was money—“I got stuck on a whore and wanted dough to blow in on her and have a good time! That’s all I did it for! Just money! Honest!” (3:654). Larry roughly shakes him by the shoulders, demanding that Parritt stop involving Larry in his life. This awakens Rocky, and the conversation turns back to Hickey. “I’m damned sure he’s brought death here with him,” Larry somberly remarks. “I feel the cold touch of it on him” (3:655). Larry then insinuates that if Parritt had any “guts or decency” (3:655), he would leap from his own fire escape. Rocky recounts an argument with Pearl and Margie, who went on strike and left for Coney Island.

Chuck enters wearing a “Sunday-best blue suit”  and banded straw hat (3:656). At Hickey’s insistence, he and Cora have decided to marry that  day. Rocky sneers at their pipe dream, and the two bartenders square off for a fight. When Joe tries to break it up, they tell him to keep out of it.  They call him “a black bastard” and a “doity nigger” (3:658), and he lunges at them with his bread knife. Chuck grabs a whiskey bottle and raises it to strike, while Rocky pulls from his pocket a short-barreled, nickel-plated revolver. Larry intervenes by laughing and pounding his fist on the table at the bitter irony of Hickey’s success. Hugo returns briefly to consciousness, calls Hickey a “Gottamned liar,” and passes out. Joe takes the drink he earned from his chores, then smashes the glass on the floor. “I’s on’y savin’ you de trouble, White Boy. Now you don’t have to break it soon’s my back’s turned, so’s no white man kick about drinkin’ from de same glass” (3:659–660). He announces he will find money to reopen his gambling house, “If I has to borrow a gun and stick up some white man” (3:660), and stumbles out the door.

Willie Oban enters, completely sober and dressed in “an expensive, well-cut suit, good shoes and clean linen,” but shaking terribly from withdrawal. He desperately wants a drink but cannot go to the district attorney’s office smelling of whiskey.  Lewis enters, also clean, nicely dressed, and suffering from “katzenjammer” (a hangover; 3:661). He  refers to Hickey as an “interfering ass” and regrets having befriended “that stupid bounder of a Boer” (meaning Wetjoen; 3:661). Wetjoen enters with  the same spruced-up appearance and ill condition as the previous two. He and Lewis mock each  other’s inability to extricate themselves from the bar, then attack their respective reputations during the Boer War. Lewis claims Wetjoen was a known  coward, and Wetjoen that Lewis embezzled regimental money to gamble and drink. Larry sardonically compliments Hickey on his ability to “raise  the dead,” which silences them. Both men make to leave the bar but take positions at either window and wearily stare out at the street (3:664).

Willie approaches Parritt and proposes he retain Willie’s legal services. Parritt disabuses him of the notion that he requires a lawyer, then pleads with Larry to believe that it was only a “few lousy dollars to blow in on a whore” that compelled him to betray his mother. Larry orders a drink on Hickey, though he had vowed not to accept one. “I’d get blind to the world now if it was the Iceman of Death himself treating!” (3:666–667). Larry wonders why he conjured that image, then laughs: “Well, be God, it fits, for Death was the Iceman Hickey called to his home!” (3:667).

Ed Mosher and Pat McGloin enter; they have been arguing as well and bitterly denounce Hickey’s interference. Cora and Chuck enter and announce their plan to get married in New Jersey that after- noon. No one takes them seriously. The couple bickers drunkenly then hears Hickey approach and makes a hasty exit. Harry, Jimmy Tomorrow, and Hickey appear at the doorway. Harry and Jimmy  are also dressed in their finest clothes and are desperately hungover—their unsteady walk “suggests  the last march of the condemned” (3:669). Hickey prods the two along and gives another speech about the fear men experience when they “face the  truth,” but that “it’s exactly those damned tomorrow dreams which keep you from making peace  with yourself. So you’ve got to kill them like I killed mine” (3:670, 671). He cajoles Lewis and Wetjoen into leaving first. Mosher and McGloin follow, with Willie close behind. They all thank Harry as they depart. Jimmy Tomorrow is next, but he pleads, “Tomorrow! I will tomorrow!” He finally relents, but he screams at Hickey, “You dirty swine!” before rushing from the bar (3:672). Larry protests when Hickey turns on Harry. Harry lets out a stream of excuses—rheumatism, automobiles, the weather, the respect to Bessie’s memory. None of them pass muster with Hickey, who openly defies Harry’s pipe dream about his wife. “She was always around your neck,” he says, “making you have ambition and go out and do things, when all you wanted was to get drunk in peace” (3:674).

Harry at first pretends he cannot hear, but then, in a burst of fury, he exits the bar. Rocky stares out the window in disbelief. “I’ll bet yuh he’s comin’ back,” he says. “Of course, he’s coming back,” Hickey responds. “So are all of the others. By tonight they’ll all be here again. You dumbbell,  that’s the whole point” (3:674). But Harry continues to move away from the bar, and Rocky excitedly reports each step. Larry turns to Hickey: “And  now it’s my turn, I suppose? What is it I’m to do to achieve this blessed peace of yours?” (3:674). “Just stop lying to yourself,” Hickey replies. “I sit here,” Larry says, “with my pride drowned on the bottom of a bottle, keeping drunk so I won’t see myself shaking in my britches with fright, or hear myself whining and praying: Beloved Christ, let me live a little longer at any price! . . . You think you’ll make me admit that to myself?” Hickey chuckles, “But you just did admit it, didn’t you?” (3:675). Parritt cheers on Hickey, who grants that Parritt would be fit to take his place as Larry’s dream destroyer.

Rocky, observing Harry’s progress, shouts that Harry stopped in the middle of the street. Harry  runs back to the bar. Paralyzed with fear, he frantically claims that a reckless driver almost ran him  over (automobiles had not yet been invented the last time Harry left the bar). Hickey goads Harry into admitting there was no car. Harry does so dejectedly and accidentally bangs his bottle down  next to Hugo’s head. Hugo mutters superstitiously that Harry appears to be dead and moves to  another table, thrusting “his head down on his arms like an ostrich hiding its head in the sand” (3:677). “Another one who’s begun to enjoy your peace!” Larry shouts. Hickey assures him they will be fine after “the first shock” (3:677). “Close that big clam of yours, Hickey,” Harry orders. “Bejees, you’re a worse gabber than that nagging bitch, Bessie, was” (3:678). Dumbfounded by this admittance, Rocky agrees with Hugo that Harry looks dead. “It’s the peace of death you’ve brought him,” Larry hisses. Hickey loses his temper for the first time, but he quickly collects himself. Harry complains the liquor has lost its “kick” and blames Hickey’s meddling. Larry insists Hickey disclose what happened to his  wife, Evelyn Hickman. Hickey says she took “a bullet in the head” (3:679). When Larry suggests he  drove her to suicide, Hickey clarifies that she was murdered, and the police have not found the killer. “But I expect they will before very long” (3:679). Harry bets the iceman murdered her, then says in exasperation, “But who the hell cares? Let’s get drunk and pass out” (3:680). Parritt continues to stare at Larry, demanding that he end his guilt.

Hugo reawakens, fear-stricken this time. Hickey ignores him and attempts to comfort Harry. “It’s time you began to feel happy,” he says uncertainly and the curtain falls (3:680).

Act 4

Same as act 1 at 1:30 the following morning. Larry, Hugo, and Parritt sit at a table in the back room, left front. Parritt glares at Larry with “sneering, pleading challenge” (3:681). Cora, Lewis, McGloin, and Wetjoen sit at one table, and Willie, Harry, Mosher, and Jimmy Tomorrow sit at another. Two  bottles of whiskey and water pitchers stand on each table. Everyone sits “like wax figures, set stiffly on their chairs, carrying out mechanically the motions of getting drunk but sunk in a numb stupor which is impervious to stimulation” (3:681–682). Joe is passed out on the bar side, and Rocky, who now resembles a “minor Wop gangster” (3:682), roughly attempts to send him to the back room where he can drink legally. Chuck enters, drunk and disheveled from a fight. Back from a “periodical” (drinking binge), Chuck complains that alcohol no longer produces its desired effect. He now understands that Hickey was right to call his and Cora’s engagement a pipe dream. “On’y it was fun,” he admits forlornly, “me and Cora kiddin’ ourselves” (3:683). When Chuck asks Rocky where the “son of a bitch” Hickey is, Rocky responds, “De Chair, maybe dat’s where he’s goin’. I don’t know nuttin’, see, but it looks like he croaked his wife” (3:683).

Rocky admits he is a pimp and that he too finds drinking no longer helps. He recounts how Joe confessed in tears that he “wasn’t a gamblin’ man or a tough guy no more” (3:684). Joe regains consciousness and moves dejectedly into the back room. Rocky and Chuck follow. Cora hands Chuck a roll of bills, but otherwise no one moves. Parritt shouts that Larry wants him to “take a hop off the fire escape” to repent for his sin. “God damn you!” Larry responds. “Are you trying to make me your executioner?” (3:686). Rocky says, “Sure. Why don’t he? Or you? Or me? What de hell’s de difference? Who cares?” (3:686). The rest join him in a dismal chorus— “The hell with it!” “Who cares?” (3:686). Rocky tries to entice Parritt and Larry to become pimps, “and not be lousy barflies” (3:687). “The peace Hickey’s brought you,” Larry responds. “It isn’t contented enough, if you have to make everyone else a pimp, too” (3:687). He adds that Hickey will return, as he has lost confidence that the “peace he’s sold us is the real McCoy” (3:688).

Hickey appears in the doorway at the back of the bar and angrily rejects Larry’s assertion. Harry accuses him of having taken the “life out of” the whiskey, and the men all cry out, “We can’t pass out! You promised us peace!” With a mix of sadness and anger, Hickey retorts, “By rights you should be contented now, without a single damned hope or lying dream left to torment you! But here you are, acting like a lot of stiffs cheating the undertaker!” (3:689). He announces that by two o’clock, his time will have run out, and he again pleads for them to appreciate the loss of their delusions. “Don’t you know you’re free now to be yourselves, without having to feel remorse or guilt, or lie to yourselves about reforming tomorrow? Can’t you see there is no tomorrow now? You’re rid of it forever! You’ve killed it!” (3:689).

Hickey confesses that he murdered his wife, Evelyn, to save her from forgiving him again for philandering and drunkenness. “There is a second’s dead  silence as he finishes—then a tense indrawn breath like  a gasp from the crowd, and a general shrinking movement” (3:690). Parritt compares his own state with  Hickey’s by saying, “It’s worse if you kill someone and they have to go on living. I’d be glad of the Chair!” Agitated by the comparison, Hickey replies, “There was love in my heart, not hate” (3:691). He takes up his narrative again, but Harry cries out, “Who the hell cares? We don’t want to hear it. All we want is to pass out and get drunk and a little peace!” (3:691). Pounding the tables with their glasses, the group all join in chorus—“Who the hell cares? We want to pass out!” (3:692). Jimmy emerges from his stupor and, “in a precise, completely lifeless voice,” admits to no one in particular, “It was all a stupid lie—my nonsense about tomorrow” (3:692). He was glad when his wife left him—it made it easier to get drunk without the guilt.

Two detectives, Moran and Lieb, silently enter the barroom. Moran shows Rocky his badge and demands to see Hickey. When they tell Rocky it was Hickey who called them, he points to the back room. “And if yuh want a confession,” he says dully, “all yuh got to do is listen. He’ll be tellin’ all about it soon” (3:693). Lieb blocks the exit, and  Moran stands at the curtain while Hickey continues his story.

Hickey’s father was an evangelical minister in Indiana, but Hickey never fell for his “religious bunk” (3:693). His home, school, and “hick town”  all felt like prison to him. He began smoking, drinking, and visiting local brothels. Nothing shook his  resolve to rebel, and he hated everyone “except Evelyn.” The daughter of well-to-do Methodist  parents, Evelyn was the one person in town who believed in Hickey’s goodness. “I loved Evelyn. Even as a kid. And Evelyn loved me” (3:694). She refused to believe he was beyond reform, and she forgave him no matter how egregious the crime against her. “No, sir, you couldn’t stop Evelyn. Nothing on earth could shake her faith in me. Even I couldn’t. She was a sucker for a pipe dream” (3:694). The madam of the brothel believed in Hickey’s ability to become a salesmen and lent him money to move away and start a career. Against Hickey’s advice, Evelyn promised to stay loyal and wait for him to send for her. “Who the hell cares?” Harry says, “What’s she to us? All we want is to pass out in peace, bejees!” Again, the chorus erupts from the crowd—“What’s it to us? We want to pass out in peace!” (3:695).

Oblivious of the disruption, Hickey continues that his knowledge of other peoples’ pipe dreams made him an instant success as a salesman, and he eventually sent for Evelyn. On the road, he would become homesick, and since he never drank on the job, he turned to women to satisfy his loneliness. Aware of his infidelities, Evelyn always forgave him. At one point, he even infected her with a sexually transmitted disease. She pretended to believe his story about contracting it from a cup on the train. “Christ, can you imagine what a guilty skunk she made me feel! If she’d only admitted once she didn’t believe any more in her pipe dream that some day I’d behave!” (3:698). He reaches for her photograph but remembers he tore it up. Parritt announces that he tore up his picture of his mother as well because “her eyes followed me all the time. They seemed to be wishing I was dead!” (3:698).

Hickey’s indiscretions grew more regular and despicable, but Evelyn’s forgiveness never waned. “There’s a limit to the guilt you can feel and the forgiveness and the pity you can take!” (3:699). He knew he would have to withstand another act of forgiveness once Harry’s birthday party came around. “Who the hell cares?” Harry chants. “We want to pass out in peace!” Again the chorus repeats his call and bangs their glasses on the tables (3:700). “So I killed her,” Hickey says, and Moran and Lieb move toward him. Parritt confesses that he turned in his mother because he hated her. Still ignoring him, Hickey goes on that he killed Evelyn to grant her peace. But he remembers starting to  laugh while looking down at her corpse, then yelling, “‘Well, you know what you can do with your  pipe dream now, you damned bitch!’” (3:700). The force of this admission startles him, “as if he couldn’t believe what he just said” (3:700). Parritt again chimes in, “Yes, that’s it! Her and that damned old Movement pipe dream!” (3:701).

In a state of “frantic denial,” Hickey begs Harry to believe he had to have been insane. “Who the  hell cares?” Harry blurts out, but then he realizes the potential of Hickey’s admission. “Insane?  You mean—you went really insane?” (3:701). The detectives believe Hickey is trying to establish an  insanity defense, and they arrest him. “Do you suppose I give a damn about life now?” Hickey protests to Moran. “Why, you bonehead, I haven’t got a single damned lying hope or pipe dream left!” (3:703). As they lead Hickey away, Harry jeers at them and shouts words of encouragement to his old friend.

Hickey’s voice can be heard down the hall as the detectives usher him out. On Harry’s cue, the men all raise their glasses, hoping the whiskey will now have “the old kick” (3:703). “May the chair bring  him back to peace at last, the poor tortured bastard!” Larry shouts. Parritt resumes his comparison  to Hickey: “You know what you can do with your freedom pipe dream, don’t you, you damned old bitch!” (3:704). Larry drops his facade of dispassion and agrees that Parritt should end his life. Parritt thanks him and exits. Larry sullenly remains in his seat, solemnly listening for the inevitable.

Harry and the gang proceed to get very drunk. One by one, their pipe dreams resume: Rocky assures Harry that an automobile stopped him from taking his walk; Cora and Chuck reflect that they cannot get married until they have a farm first; Lewis and Wetjoen and McGloin and Mosher recommence their friendships. All the while Hugo calls fearfully to Larry, but ultimately he gives it up and joins in the resurrectional party.

Margie and Pearl enter. Rocky hails them warmly, tells them Hickey’s story, and threatens to “knock de block off” anyone who calls them whores (3:709). Larry loses patience and rises from  his seat angrily. He stops at the sound of Parritt’s  body whirring past the window, “followed by a muffled, crunching thud” (3:710). Larry drops back into  his seat and puts his head in his hands. “Life is too much for me! I’ll be a weak fool looking with pity at the two sides of everything till the day I die. . . .  May that day come soon! (He pauses startledly, surprised at himself—then with a sardonic grin) Be God,  I’m the only real convert to death Hickey made here. From the bottom of my coward’s heart I mean that now!” (3:710). Unlike the rest of them, his pipe dream has come true.

Harry’s party resumes, and everyone drunkenly begins singing different songs at once. They all stop abruptly and break into fits of laughter, while Hugo loudly booms the French revolutionary song “Carmagnole.” He then screams out his usual cant, “Capitalist svine! Stupid bourgeois monkeys!” They all holler together, “’Tis cool beneath thy willow trees!” (3:711), pounding their glasses and laughing wildly. In the midst of the bedlam, Larry sits staring vacantly in front of him as the curtain falls.


In an interview following the 1946 premiere of The Iceman Cometh, Eugene O’Neill told the New York Times about his cast of barroom characters: “I knew ’em all. . . . I’ve known ’em all for years. . . . The past which I have chosen is one I knew. The man  who owns this saloon, Harry Hope, and all the others—the Anarchists and Wobblies and French Syndicalists, the broken men, the tarts, the bartenders  and even the saloon itself—are real. It’s not just one place, perhaps, but it is several places that I lived in at one time or another . . . places I once knew put together in one” (quoted in Raleigh Introduction 1968, 25). O’Neill based the setting of The Iceman Cometh—Harry Hope’s bar—on three gin mills he had frequented in Manhattan from 1907 to the late 1910s, before Prohibition (1920–33) effectively dried them up: Jimmy “the Priest’s,” located at 252  Fulton Street off the West Side waterfront; the tap- room of the Garden Hotel on the northeast corner  of Madison and 27th Street across from Madison Square Garden; and Tom Wallace’s Hell Hole, officially the Golden Swan, at Fourth Street and  6th Avenue in Greenwich Village. O’Neill’s memories of these three bars and the men and women who inhabited them inspired The Iceman Cometh, one of the most thematically complex and forcefully authentic plays in American theater history.

O’Neill first boarded at Jimmy “the Priest’s” in 1911. He had just returned to New York City with 12 dollars in his pocket from Buenos Aires,  Argentina, on the steamship SS Ikala. He probably began drinking there four years earlier, in 1907,  when he worked for the Chicago Supply Company  office around the block (Alexander 2005, 7). Jimmy’s was the setting of his short story “Tomorrow.” The story’s protagonist, James Anderson, is  based on the alcoholic press agent and former Boer War correspondent James Findlater Byth, who appears in The Iceman Cometh as James “Jimmy Tomorrow” Cameron. O’Neill’s play Exorcism (which he destroyed) and the first acts of “Anna Christie” and Chris Christophersen also take place at Jimmy’s. The waterfront flophouse offered shared rooms upstairs for three dollars a month, free soup for lodgers, and whiskey or a schooner of beer for a nickel (Raleigh Introduction 1968, 4–5). In January 1912, O’Neill attempted suicide with an overdose of Veronal in his room at Jimmy’s. Byth, his roommate, was one of the friends who saved his life. O’Neill dramatized this traumatic event  in Exorcism and in a more hidden autobiographical way with the guilt suicide of Don Parritt (see  Sheaffer 499).

O’Neill drank often at the Garden Hotel tap- room with his brother James O’Neill, Jr. (Jamie),  and he got drunk there to bolster his resolve before staging a liaison with a prostitute, which gave him  grounds to divorce his first wife, Kathleen Jenkins (Alexander 2005, 8). O’Neill discovered the  Hell Hole just after completing his drama seminar with George Pierce Baker in 1915. There he met numerous characters who influenced him in one  way or another, including the Hell Hole’s proprietor, Tom Wallace, the model for Harry Hope;  the Irish philosophical anarchist Terry Carlin, immortalized in the character Larry Slade; and Joe Smith, the black gambler and small-time gangster who inspired O’Neill to write The Dreamy Kid and  who appears as Joe Mott. From the composite portrait of these three low venues sprang what O’Neill  called in his first note for the idea, “the Jimmy the P.—H. H.—Garden idea” (Floyd 1981, 260), which became The Iceman Cometh. In the same note, he jotted down, “and N.L. [New London]. family one”—Long Day’s Journey into Night.

Describing the purview of the bar before Hickey’s arrival, O’Neill wished to articulate, in his words, “the atmosphere of the place, the humour and  friendship and human warmth and deep inner contentment at the bottom” (quoted in Eisen 156). For  this reason, without the play’s novelistic, lengthy introduction to the characters—“as if you’d read a play about each of them,” he wrote in defense of the rambling quality of act 1—“you would find the impact of what follows a lot less profoundly disturbing” (quoted in Eisen 156, 157). In 1912, the year the play is set, O’Neill was an able seaman, would-be poet, and son of the great matinee idol James O’Neill; as such, he intimately related to his characters. Harry Hope’s gang erect a fortress around themselves as protection from existential misery with alcohol, pipe dreams, and friendship, as O’Neill had done at Jimmy’s in 1911–12 and later at the Hell Hole in the winter of 1915–16. Only at the bar, O’Neill emphasized in a letter to Kenneth Macgowan, could the men experience the “deep inner contentment,” or what Kurt Eisen calls a “befogged equivalent of happiness,” the men display in act 1 and in the final scene after Hickey is taken away (Eisen 154, 156–157).

O’Neill’s initial title for The Iceman Cometh was Tomorrow, the title of his 1916 short story (the only one published in his lifetime) and the seed for the late play. The next day, however, he came up with The Iceman Cometh, “which I love,” he  wrote George Jean Nathan, “because it characteristically expresses so much of the outer and the  inner spirit of the play” (O’Neill 501). Although the joke of the title—Hickey’s tearfully producing a picture of his wife and then revealing he left her in bed with the iceman—is not particularly funny (as Mary McCarthy is quick to point out; 52), the actual joke is quite good: A man yells upstairs to his wife, “Has the iceman come yet?” and his wife calls back, “No, but he’s breathing hard” (quoted in Berlin 99). O’Neill may have been relying on the audience’s awareness of this old joke and chose not to include it for the same reason he wrote the dialogue “in exact lingo of place and 1912, as I  remember it—with only the filth expletives omitted” (O’Neill 502).

“The philosophy” of the play, O’Neill told the press before the 1946 premiere, “is that there is  always one dream left, one final dream, no matter how low you have fallen, down there at the  bottom of the bottle” (quoted in Alexander 2005, 56–57). The Iceman Cometh is also a nostalgia play that expresses the sense of longing O’Neill felt in his later years for the men he befriended in his 20s, and in their turn the men’s nostalgia for the “good old days” which may or may not have existed in their former lives (see Raleigh “Historical Background”  1968, 55). As such, it is primarily a play about memory and the ability to reconstruct one’s past in a positive light in order to bear the terror of an unknown  future. Put another way, the work grapples with “the existential theme of being asked to face life  when there is no meaningful life to be found” (Diggins 64). Certainly O’Neill’s wistful remembrance  of his early days slumming in New York is itself a “pipe dream,” as by all accounts he was not a happy young man. Indeed, it is difficult to single out a period in his life when he was truly happy. That knowledge, O’Neill seems to be saying, requires a certain level of memory tampering, particularly in one’s later years when death (the iceman) comes to claim you. Perhaps more than any other O’Neill play, given his age at the time of composition, The Iceman Cometh is a product, as Doris Alexander phrases it, of “O’Neill’s own need to come to terms with death” (2005, 15).

O’Neill’s theme of the pipe dream—what he also termed the “hopeless hope”—first appeared in his 1919 full-length play The Straw (1:793). A highly autobiographical account of O’Neill’s time at the Gaylord Farm Sanatorium, The Straw introduces the newspaper man Stephen Murray (O’Neill), who understands that the tuberculosis patients at the sanatorium all claim they are not “really sick,” which he acknowledges is the “pipe dream that keeps us all going” (1:733). In the final act, Murray’s nurse Miss  Gilman defines the “hopeless hope” as “some promise of fulfillment,—somehow—somewhere—in the  spirit of hope itself” (1:793–794).

Even stronger parallels exist between The Iceman Cometh and A Touch of the Poet, in which  O’Neill’s protagonist, Con Melody, for better  or worse, sheds his pipe dream of British nobility in favor of his “bogtrotter” Irishman persona.  But O’Neill deepens this sentiment in The Iceman Cometh, asserting that as the future cannot be trusted and the present is a painful manifestation of the past, only a fictionalized past can grant peace and inspire a “hopeless hope” for the future. “It’s all  very true,” Doris Alexander hypothesizes an audience’s reaction, “that a group of drunken bums like  those in Harry Hope’s saloon must cherish their illusions or perish, but what has all this to do with  me?” (1953, 366). O’Neill’s torment over the horrors of World War II caused an increasing despair  over the future of humanity in the playwright, a pessimistic view that might not hold up in better times. In a powerful way, then, as mentioned in the introduction, the timing of the production had a strong impact on its reception.

O’Neill told his eldest son, Eugene O’Neill, Jr., that Hitler’s blitzkrieg, particularly as it led to the fall of France (July 1940), sank him “deeper and deeper into a profound pessimistic lethargy” (O’Neill  509). He shelved his planned cycle, A Tale of Possessors Self-Dispossessed, because, as he wrote his  daughter Oona O’Neill in July 1940, “the Cycle I have been writing will have little meaning for the sort of world we will probably be living in by the time I finish it” (O’Neill 508). A few days later, he wrote to his friend Lawrence Langner: “To tell the truth, like anyone else with any imagination, I have been absolutely sunk by this damned world debacle. The Cycle is on the shelf, and God knows if I can ever take it up again because I cannot foresee any future in this country or anywhere else to which it could spiritually belong” (O’Neill 510).

Certainly from his historical viewpoint, O’Neill had every right to imagine the rest of the world  sharing his bleak vision of the future, but he underestimated the patriotic fervor that infused the citizenry of what, almost overnight, rose up as the  world’s greatest superpower. Perched on a stool at the stage bar at a rehearsal for The Iceman Cometh, the embittered playwright told the journalist and later O’Neill biographer Croswell Bowen,

Of course, America is due for a retribution. There ought to be a page in the history books of  the United States of America of all the unprovoked, criminal, unjust crimes committed and  sanctioned by our government since the beginning of our history and before that, too. There is  hardly one thing that our government has done that isn’t some treachery—against the Indians, against the people of the Northwest, against the small farmers. . . . This American Dream stuff gives me a pain. . . . Telling the world about our American Dream! I don’t know what they mean. If it exists, as we tell the whole world, why don’t we make it work in one small hamlet in the United States? If it’s the constitution they mean, ugh, then it’s a lot of words. If we taught history and told the truth, we’d teach school children that the United States has followed the same greedy rut as every other country. We would tell who’s guilty. The list of the guilty ones responsible will include some of our great national heroes. Their portraits should be taken out and burned. . . . [And] the big business leaders in this country! Why do we produce such stupendous, colossal egomaniacs? They go on doing the most monstrous things, always  using the excuse that if we don’t the other person will. It’s impossible to satirize them, if you  wanted to (quoted in Bowen 83–84).

Larry Slade announces this central theme of historical delusion in Iceman’s opening scene: “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” (3:569–570). Along with “pipe dreams,” the expression misbegotten is a vital one in the O’Neill canon, a term the playwright evocatively used in the title of his final play,  A Moon for the Misbegotten. Although Misbegotten generally describes an illegitimate child (born  out of wedlock), in O’Neill’s imagination it might best be understood as someone who feels they should never have been born at all. This theme most resonantly enters Iceman when Larry Slade quotes Heinrich Heine’s poem about morphine:  “Lo, sleep is good; better is death; in sooth, The  best of all were never to be born.” As O’Neill biographer Louis Sheaffer points out, these lines “were  not lightly chosen by Slade’s creator” (499), given O’Neill’s mother, Mary Ellen “Ella” O’Neill’s, longtime morphine habit and O’Neill’s guilt that the addiction directly resulted from his birth. O’Neill dramatized the psychic pain that ensued in his next play, Long Day’s Journey into Night.

Audiences and critics alike commonly refer to  the men at Harry’s as “derelicts,” “barflies,” “dead-beats,” “drunken bums,” “lowlifes,” “ne’er-do- wells,” “little men,” and so on. Of course, they are  all of these insofar as their lives at Harry’s saloon are concerned, but each in his own way (aside,  perhaps, from the bartenders and prostitutes) actually led rather remarkable lives before their retreat  to the lower depths: Larry Slade was an anarchist leader during the movement’s heyday in the 1870s, ’80s and ’90s; Harry Hope was a locally respected Tammany Hall politician; Ed Mosher traveled with a circus; Cameron, Lewis, and Wetjoen all served  in life-threatening capacities, if not always honorably, in the Boer War; Joe Mott was the proprietor  of his own gambling club and a respected gangster  among whites at a time of unbridled racial discrimination; Willie Oban, the youngest and most desperate alcoholic in a throng of serious alcoholics,  graduated from Harvard Law School, and his father was one of the most powerful confidence-trick men  in Manhattan; and so on. As critic Brooks Atkinson noted in his review of the 1956 production,  “These are creatures that once were men—very pungent and picturesque creatures too, for O’Neill was a good deal of a romantic” (34).

Scholars vary on this point, but the play is generally read as a work of realism or naturalism,  and the characters are little modified from O’Neill’s experience with their true-to-life counterparts (see Alexander 1953). From an outsider’s perspective, it might be understandable to think of the bar and its  denizens as romantically portrayed. But the romantic spirit that inspired O’Neill to pursue a career  in literature led him to explore the lives of many extraordinary, if tortured, individuals and go on to  become an extraordinary, tortured individual himself. O’Neill symbolically infuses his characters with corrupt, ultraviolent, and criminal pasts that he believed formed the roux of modern society. But he adds the ironic twist that these men could never be considered legitimate members of the society that created them. Paradoxically, criminals and outcasts  become more terrorized by everyday modern existence and the human condition than the “respectable” citizens who shape it.

Given all this, O’Neill biographer Stephen A. Black asks an extremely important question of the play and its creator: “Does O’Neill intend us to take seriously the idea that the bums with their pipe dreams have the right dope after all?” (427). The author of a psychological approach to O’Neill’s life and work, Black’s answer is remarkably astute and stands, to my mind, as the finest explanation of O’Neillian pipe dreams we have. Black reads the pipe dreams of the men at the saloon as an externalized display of what psychoanalysts call “intrapsychic defenses,” a difficult-sounding concept but  one that addresses the practical functionality of living in a world of pipe dreams more concretely than  any other. Black refers to the need for every person to create internal “defenses to protect against  thoughts and feelings that threaten their psychic equilibrium.” “To imagine life without defenses,”  Black explains, “recall a terrifying nightmare. Imagine being awake while the nightmare went on;  imagine being unable to tell whether the terrifying thing is real or ‘only a dream,’ as we say; imagine being unable to awaken from the dream and have it go away” (428). If we accept this need to shield  ourselves mentally, “then those of us (in the audience) who say we are normal may not have any  very great claim to superiority over the bums who are dependent on alcohol and yea-saying friends to get through life’s waking hours.” Here we find the heart of O’Neill’s pessimism: Though “normal” people may escape alcoholism and be capable of taking on many of life’s challenges in the outside world, O’Neill shows that it is only a matter of degree, and they “may nevertheless find themselves in exactly the same situation as Hope’s people when face to face with what Larry calls the stench of death” (428).

Audiences should not accept Hickey’s plea of insanity unless insanity means living a lifelong lie.  O’Neill contends that we all must, in our own ways, construct defensive pipe dreams to maintain sanity in the face of devastating psychological and social realities. After all his pronouncements about the importance of shattering illusions, Hickey emerges in the final scene as the most delusional character  of all. But for one horrifying moment, he understands the intense hatred he felt toward his wife,  Evelyn. Her incessant ability to forgive drove him to unbearable guilt, for which he could escape only through her death and ultimately his own. Unable to bear the truth, Hickey cowers behind the lie of insanity. The other characters (even Larry, at the end, who had always considered himself an exception) consciously acknowledge their pipe dreams as pipe dreams until the final scene, when they deliberately return to the comforts afforded by self-delusion.

By tearing down these “intrapsychic defenses,” Hickey propels the men, however briefly, into a living nightmare from which they cannot awaken,  sleep through, or drink themselves out of. Don Parritt is one of two exceptions. His boyish defenses—  manifested first in his declaration that he betrayed his mother after studying American history, then that he simply wanted to pay for sex—were so  weak, he never for a moment believed them himself. Larry, on the other hand, as Hickey’s “only  real convert to death” (3:710), is destined to live  his life yearning for the end, formerly his inner-most fear but now his only escape from the terror  of living. Given the play’s creator was a writer who dedicated his career to conquering truth in one way or the other, we can apprehend Parritt as an avatar of the younger O’Neill, who faced his demons—in the face of his mother’s addiction and his father’s absenteeism—and as a result attempted to end his life in a waterfront flophouse. Larry represents the other side of O’Neill, the one that “pretended to accept it all while sitting in dour, pessimistic judgment on himself and the world” (Black 424). In this configuration, Hickey might be the Jamie O’Neill whom O’Neill depicts in Long Day’s Journey into Night—the teller of truths no one cares to hear.

Earlier in O’Neill’s career, particularly in the SS Glencairn cycle, O’Neill relied upon the sea,the forecastle, and the stokehold as his “safe zone” rather than a bar (unless the bar, as in The Long Voyage Home, acts as a surrogate for the sea). When one recalls Robert “Yank” Smith’s fate in The Hairy Ape after he abandons the protection of his ship, we can see Harry Hope’s as a haven from such a fate. “The bar, like the ship, is a safe zone where the men are completely free,” Zander  Brietzke writes. “Free from worry, free from responsibility, free from family, free from friends, free from  commitment, free from love, free from all pain, and thus free from all things that might make life worth living” (45). And like the firemen in Yank’s stokehold, Harry Hope’s bar resembles nothing less than the American melting pot—perhaps even, as one critic phrased it, a “microcosmic reflection of the great world” (Raleigh Introduction 1968, 8; see also Floyd 1985, 521). In it, O’Neill interweaves class, race, gender, and ethnicity into the same  tragic fabric of his thesis: that “truth” is too difficult to accept on its own terms and that one must  devise a protective dream about oneself to carry on. In O’Neill’s sea plays, the sea claims as victims those who oppose it, and the same is true of Harry’s  bar. Those who deny its protection—Hickey, Parritt, and eventually Larry—must face death head  on without the solace of pipe dreams, alcohol, or friendship.

The Swedish playwright August Strindberg’s work powerfully influences the gender conflicts in the play, as it does throughout the O’Neill canon.  Strindberg’s “woman destroyers” appear in the off-stage characters of Evelyn Hickman, Rosa Parritt,  Marjorie Cameron, and Bessie Hope, who, along with many other women characters in the O’Neill  canon, “precipitated, either intentionally or culpably,” the physical and spiritual death of their  men. Such a view of women constitutes, according  to Sheaffer, “additional evidence of a misogynistic strain in O’Neill” (Sheaffer 500; see also Berlin 103). O’Neill’s offstage women in The Iceman  Cometh have been read in two important ways: Virginia Floyd makes autobiographical connections,  showing how the major offstage women characters “form a composite picture of O’Neill’s mother,” Mary Ellen “Ella” O’Neill. In this reading, Evelyn (whose name closely resembles “Ella”) represents  the “long-suffering but forgiving wife”; Rosa is the “detached mother,” as distracted from her maternal duties by the “Movement” as Ella was by morphine; Bessie is the “pious, nagging, intolerant shrew”; and James Cameron’s Marjorie is “the attractive but unfaithful spouse” (Floyd 1985, 530).

Bette Mandl, in one of the finest essays on the topic, “Absence as Presence: The Second Sex in The Iceman Cometh,” demonstrates the extent to which all the men’s pipe dreams are somehow interrelated to women; thus, in the context of this O’Neill play, “as in so many others, the women tend to be merely representative of that which men  struggle with and against in enacting their destinies” (185). Hickey “must face judgment,” and Parritt must commit suicide as a result of their mixed  hatred and love for the most important women in their lives; and the disgust Larry feels concerning  Rosa’s promiscuity appears to have been a significant factor—possibly the significant factor—for his  abandonment of the “Movement.” Rosa’s ghost, Mandl argues, is exorcised from his conscience the moment his pipe dream falls away (190; see also Glover).

Scholars identify two key European plays that inform much of the thematic structure of Iceman: Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck (1884) and Maxim Gorky’s The Lower Depths (1902). In The Wild Duck, an outsider named Gregers Werle intrudes upon a seemingly harmonious family, the Ekdals. Werle, like Hickey, has a messianic compulsion to destroy the family’s illusions. The play ends with the Ekdal daughter, Hedvig, committing suicide after discovering that the father might not be her own, which calls to mind Parritt’s jump from the fire escape and his confusion over Larry’s role as his own potential father. Had the illusions remained, Ibsen implies, the family may well have remained intact. As Werle’s antagonist, Dr. Relling, tells him at one point, “to rob the average man of his life lie . . . is to rob him of his happiness” (quoted  in Manheim 1; see also Floyd [1985] and Brustein). Gorky’s The Lower Depths presents a comparable mise en scène (in four acts, like The Iceman  Cometh): a low rooming house filled with alcoholic boarders. Another outsider, Luka, arrives to bolster  their otherwise desperate lives by constructing illusions of grandeur around each. Upon Luka’s departure, however, the illusions melt away, and reality  once again sets in. Again, a disillusioned character commits suicide, though the play inverts O’Neill’s schema (see Muchnic).

Additional sources can be found in Greek tragedy, with O’Neill’s use of the chorus in act 4 (Tiusanen 28–31) and the unity of the play’s time and place (Berlin 103; see also King). Friedrich Nietzsche, O’Neill’s “literary idol,” informs much of Larry Slade’s nihilistic philosophy, which also resembles O’Neill’s only self-professed philosophy, philosophical anarchism. The 12 men at Harry’s birthday party recall the Last Supper with Hickey’s 12 disciples, Parritt as Judas, and the three prostitutes as the three Marys (see Day passim and Bogard 412n; Ibsen applies a similar motif in The Wild  Duck). Strong parallels have been made between Harry Hope’s bar and Plato’s metaphor of the cave as well, in which prisoners chained to the inner wall of a cave see only shadows until they exit to  face the blinding sunlight of reality; Plato’s philosophers, however, achieve enlightenment when their  eyes adjust, whereas O’Neill’s characters confront  a tragic, sometimes fatal, awareness (Raleigh Introduction 1968, 14).

Finally, though certainly not exhaustively, Brenda Murphy has identified two American plays written in the two years before O’Neill completed The Iceman Cometh with similar themes, settings, and characters: Philip Barry’s Here Come the Clowns (1938)  and William Saroyan’s Pulitzer Prize–winning The Time of Your Life (1939). Placed side by side with The Iceman Cometh, Murphy argues, the three plays form an “American saloon trilogy,” as “all three plays present a group of characters in the grip of paralyzing idleness that faces a threat from an outside character  who tries to enforce his will and values on the community” (215).

Paradoxically, what distinguishes The Iceman Cometh from these sources, important as they are for understanding the complexity of the work, is that element that the play’s admirers find most ingenious about it and detractors its greatest flaw: O’Neill’s unremitting repetition of dialogue. Some obvious examples are Hugo Kalmar’s near-identical, often prolonged outbursts between periods of  alcohol-induced slumber and the repeated use of the term pipe dream by nearly all the characters.  Eric Bentley, the most prominent critic of this repetition, considered them a needless expressionistic device; indeed, when he directed the play in German, he cut a full hour’s worth of dialogue (Bentley 42). Other critics contend that this repetition  heightens the sense of O’Neill’s profound compassion for his characters, and that furthermore  the technique approximates a classical symphony with its traditional four movements (acts). Travis Bo­gard submits that the play “should be heard as  music is heard with an understanding that it progresses in patterns of sound, as much as in patterns  of narrative action” (409; see also Floyd 1985, 513). The play’s most famous director, José Quintero, the architect of the Eugene O’Neill renaissance in the 1950s and 1960s, most likely succeeded where its first production failed through his understanding of O’Neill’s dialogic rhythms. “It [the play] resembles a complex musical form,” he wrote, “with themes  repeating themselves with slight variation, as melodies do in a symphony.” Quintero ironically found  that directing the rambling play taught him “the meaning of precision in drama” (quoted in Berlin  103). Hickey’s monologue in act 4, then, the longest O’Neill ever wrote, might be considered a kind  of instrumental climax.

Critics acknowledge that O’Neill’s second, far more significant allusion in the title is biblical, and thus his rationale behind adding the archaic form of “comes”: “At midnight there was a great cry made, behold, the bridegroom cometh!” (Matthew 25:6). In the Bible, the bridegroom is Jesus Christ,  who arrives to bring salvation and a symbolic “victory over death” (Raleigh “Historical Background”  1968, 81). Hickey, a messianic figure with promises of salvation, arrives only to bring death to the  contented—the literal death of his wife, Evelyn, Parritt, and himself, and the figurative death of the men’s pipe dreams and thus their will to live. “I’d get blind to the world now if it was the Iceman of Death himself treating!” Larry declares. “Well, be God, it fits, for death was the Iceman Hickey called to his home!” (3:666–667). Virginia Floyd connects O’Neill’s sentiment to a line by the Finnish poet Uno Kailas, who wrote, “I have but two doors, buttwo: to dream and to death.” The swinging saloon door, then, is a door to death for characters that exit into modern day realities and, inversely, the door to dream upon entry (Floyd 1985, 526).

By understanding the meaning of the title, we can also grasp the play’s overall thematic structure. The bawdy joke transforms from the comedy of act 1 into the mounting terror in acts 2 and 3, and back again. The exceptions are the three victims of Death—Larry, Hickey, and Parritt. So should we see The Iceman Cometh as a comedy or tragedy? Perhaps we should rely on its author’s definition of the work as “a big kind of comedy that doesn’t stay funny very long” (quoted in Raleigh Introduction 1968, 11).


Cameron, James “Jimmy Tomorrow”

Boarder  at Harry Hope’s saloon and former Boer War correspondent. O’Neill describes Jimmy as nearly identical to Hugo Kalmar in appearance and dress, but  with a face “like an old well-bred, gentle bloodhound’s  . . . his eyes are intelligent and there once was a competent ability about him. His speech is educated, with a ghost of a Scotch rhythm in it. His manners are those of a gentleman. There is a quality about him of a prim, Victorian old maid, and at the same time of a likable, affectionate boy who has never grown up” (3:567). O’Neill based Jimmy’s character on James Findlater Byth, his father, James O’Neill’s former press agent and a close friend and roommate of O’Neill’s at Jimmy “the Priest’s” bar. O’Neill used Byth as the protagonist in his short story “Tomorrow,” and he also appeared in Exorcism (destroyed by O’Neill). Byth is one of the men at Jimmy “the Priest’s” who saved O’Neill’s life in 1912 when the latter took a potentially lethal dose of Veronal (dramatized in Exorcism). In 1913, Byth either jumped or fell to his death from the fire escape at Jimmy’s; though O’Neill believed he committed suicide, news  reports and logic (suicide from a third-story window?) indicate that he more probably fell (Alexander 2005, 22). Before his death, O’Neill said,  Byth was “always my friend—at least always when he had several jolts of liquor—[and] saw a turn in the road tomorrow. He was going to get himself  together and get back to work. Well, he did get a  job and got fired. Then he realized that this tomorrow never would come. He solved everything by jumping to his death from the bedroom at Jimmy’s” (quoted in Raleigh Introduction 1968, 5).

In Iceman, Jimmy Tomorrow holds, to Larry Slade’s mind, the dubious distinction of being the “leader of our Tomorrow Movement” (3:584). Jimmy once served as a war correspondent for “some English paper” (3:584) and dreams that  someday he will sober up and return to his journalism career. Among the denizens at Harry’s bar,  he has always claimed that while he was working in South Africa, his wife, Marjorie, had an  affair—his excuse for leading a dissipated lifestyle. Theodore “Hickey” Hickman convinces him to try getting a position as a journalist, but he returns with his tail between his legs and confesses, “I discovered early in life that living frightened me  when I was sober” (3:692). Marjorie was unfaithful because Jimmy was a drunkard, not the other  way around. Rather than drowning his heartbreak in a bottle, as he had always claimed he was “glad to be free—even grateful to her, I think, for giving me such a good tragic excuse to drink as much as I damned well pleased” (3:692). Doris Alexander suggests that this admission resembles that of  Smitty to the Donkeyman in The Moon of the Caribbees (1953, 365).


Prostitute and Chuck Morello’s perpetual fiancée. Cora is a “thin peroxide blonde” (3:604)  with a “round face . . . with traces of a doll-like prettiness” (3:604–605). Chuck and Cora’s pipe dream is that they will get married and move to either Long Island (her idea) or New Jersey (his). Cora tells an amusing anecdote about “rolling” a drunk  from the “sticks.” When Theodore “Hickey” Hickman arrives at Harry Hope’s bar intending to end  all pipe dreams, Cora and Chuck head off to New Jersey to get married. Cora drinks too many sherry “flips,” her favorite cocktail, and Chuck leaves her in disgust to get drunk and fight. Once the police arrest Hickey for murdering his wife and the bar returns to normal, Cora laughs, in self-delusion, that they cannot get married until they have picked out a farm.

Hickman, Theodore “Hickey”

Traveling hardware salesman and regular at Harry Hope’s bar.  Hickey is around 50 years old, mostly bald, slightly under average height, with a boyish demeanor,  and “a stout, roly-poly figure” (3:607). O’Neill characterizes him as having “the salesman’s mannerisms  of speech, an easy flow of glib, persuasive convincingness” (3:607). Hickey is the product of a strict  Methodist upbringing in Indiana, where in his adolescence he rebelled by drinking and visiting the local brothels. Although he rapidly gained a reputation for badness, his future wife, a prim local girl named Evelyn, never stopped believing in his essential goodness. Hickey borrowed money from a local madam in order to escape the doldrums of  small-town life and launch his career as a salesman. Once he had earned enough, he sent for  Evelyn. They moved together, now married and very much in love, to Astoria, Queens. In spite of Hickey’s compulsive philandering and periodic drinking binges—from which he would return home, in his words, “like something lying in the gutter that no alley cat would lower itself to drag in—something they threw out of the D.T. ward in Bellevue along with the garbage, something that ought to be dead and isn’t!” (3:697)—Evelyn always forgave him and never relinquished her pipe dream that he could reform. Travis Bogard relates the Hickmans’ relationship to that of Dion and Margaret Anthony in The Great God Brown insofar as, like Margaret, “Evelyn cannot see what is behind Hickey’s face, even when he forces her brutally to look upon it” (417).

Each year Hickey arrives at Harry Hope’s bar on a “periodical” to join its group of regulars and celebrate his old friend Harry’s birthday. Over most of the first act, the men at the bar await Hickey’s arrival with great anticipation; the group at Harry’s bar universally adore him for his striking wit and  generosity. He is known for a gag in which he produces a picture of his wife with tears in his eyes,  then says he has left her in bed with the iceman.  When Hickey arrives, he arouses a chorus of hail-fellow greetings all around, but then announces  that he has both stopped drinking and renounced his pipe dreams. Ever since, he tells them, he has achieved true happiness and peace. “Just the old  dope of honesty is the best policy,” Hickey describes his new credo. “Just stop lying about yourself and  kidding yourself about tomorrows” (3:610). Hickey’s proselytizing has a terrible effect on the alcoholics at the bar: As their pipe dreams begin to  vanish, they sink into a miserable state of involuntary sobriety (those who have not stopped drinking  find the whiskey no longer has its old kick), and infighting erupts among close friends.

In the final scene of act 2, Hickey informs the gang that Evelyn is dead. He shocks them further by admitting he feels “glad” she died, since only then could she find peace after years of loving “a no-good cheater and drunk” like him (3:650). Although the members at the bar revolt against him, he succeeds in convincing them to recant their life lies, and their moods increasingly darken. By the end of act 3, he begins to question his method of conversion, believing Harry in particular, who failed to take a walk around the block (his pipe dream), should feel  happy and relieved. In act 4, in the longest monologue O’Neill ever wrote, Hickey recounts his life  story and confesses that he murdered Evelyn. Earlier, Hickey had called the police to turn himself in,  and two detectives—Moran and Lieb—enter the bar quietly during his confession.

Don Parritt, an outsider who before the action of the play betrayed his anarchist mother and thus sentenced her to a life in prison, interjects during the monologue with comparisons between his guilt over his betrayal and Hickey’s murder of his wife. Hickey dismisses the similarity. “There was love in my heart, not hate” (3:691). But as his confession continues, it becomes increasingly clear that hatred was at the heart of the murder. “There’s a limit to the guilt you can feel and the forgiveness and the  pity you can take!” (3:699) he cries out, an admission that suggests his gag about the iceman was a  wish-fulfillment fantasy that, if true, might have relieved him of his guilt. In his first real moment of clarity, the most chilling scene of the play, Hickey blurts out that he stood over Evelyn’s body, laughed out loud, and shouted, “‘Well, you know what you can do with your pipe dream now, you damned bitch!’” (3:700). As the detectives take him away, Hickey swears he must have been insane. His old friend Harry seizes upon this as a rationale forreversing everything that had transpired: Hickey was insane all along, and they can now resume their comfortable existence living in the dream world of tomorrows. With Hickey gone, no doubt to the electric chair, the whiskey begins to take effect, and the gang all sings together in paroxysms of friendship and drunkenness. Parritt has learned a great deal about himself through Hickey’s speech, realizing he must commit suicide to relieve himself of guilt, and he heads off to the fire escape.

Hickey has several fictional predecessors in the O’Neill canon, including the “drummer” Adams from Chris Christophersen (Barlow 17; Bogard 410n) and, most evidently, Lazarus in Lazarus Laughed. O’Neill biographer Louis Sheaffer points out that Lazarus, too, “sought to free his disciples of guilt and fear but succeeded only in plunging them into  darker depths” (498). Unlike most of the characters in The Iceman Cometh, scholars find the model  for Hickey in O’Neill’s actual life difficult to place.  On the one hand, O’Neill wrote Kenneth Macgowan, “What you wonder about Hickey: No, I  never knew him. He’s the most imaginary character in the play. Of course, I knew many salesmen  in my time who were periodical drunks, but Hickey is not any of them” (quoted in Floyd 517). On the other, just after finishing his final draft, he wrote  to George Jean Nathan that “there was a periodical drunk salesman, who was a damned amusing  likable guy. And he did make that typical drummer [salesman] crack about the iceman, and wept  maudlinly over his wife’s photograph, and in other moods, boozily harped on the slogan that honesty is the best policy” (O’Neill 501). Louis Sheaffer believes that Hickey is based on Charles E. Chapin, the city desk editor of the New York Evening World, who in 1918 “shot his wife in the head as she slept and insisted afterward that he had been motivated by love, by concern for her welfare” (494). Numerous scholars have made the correlation between Hickey’s personality and O’Neill’s older brother, Jamie’s—the drinking, the garrulous banter, the womanizing, and so on (see Black 422)—along with other details they share,  such as Jamie’s attending religious school in Indiana and that his most successful acting experience  was his starring role in The Traveling Salesman.  Shea­ffer has offered an autobiographical approach as well. Although Hickey is the complete antithesis  of his creator in both physical appearance and personality, “O’Neill, burning to voice through Hickey  some of his darkest impulses, took pains to mislead anyone trying to follow his biographical facts in his writing” (502). Hope, Harry Proprietor of Harry Hope’s saloon  and rooming house and a former small-time Tammany politician. Harry runs a Raines Law hotel,  which can legally offer alcohol to its customers during off hours in a back room as long as there are  rooms for rent and food available. Harry’s bar is a composite of three of Eugene O’Neill’s actual haunts in New York City—Jimmy “the Priest’s,” the taproom of the Garden Hotel, and the Hell Hole. One of O’Neill’s more intimate portraits, Harry is based on Tom Wallace, the proprietor of the Hell Hole (officially, the Golden Swan), a bar on Fourth Street and Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village.  O’Neill befriended scores of radicals and bohemians there in fall 1915 (including Terry Carlin,  the model for Larry Slade), along with small-time gamblers, politicians, and a West Side gang called the Hudson Dusters. He continued drinking at the Hell Hole until Prohibition closed it down. Wallace knew the politician Richard Croker (whose portrait  hangs above Harry’s bar), a corrupt boss of Tammany Hall—the Democratic political machine that  effectively ran New York politics from the 1870s to the early 1900s. O’Neill describes Harry as “sixty, white-haired, so thin the description ‘bag of bones’ was  made for him” (3:568). With a face like “an old family horse,” Harry explodes in anger when provoked.  No one at the bar takes these outbursts seriously, and everyone adores him for his generosity and  congeniality: “Hope is one of those men whom everyone likes on sight, a softhearted slob, without malice, feeling superior to no one, a sinner among sinners, a born easy mark for every appeal” (3:568).

Harry’s late wife was a nagging termagant named Bessie Mosher (Ed Mosher’s sister). Harry refers to her often with affection, but everyone at the bar  knows Bessie’s death liberated him from responsibility and allowed him to drink with his friends in  peace. Bessie forced Harry to take political advantage of his position as a local bar owner, which he did while she was alive. But since her death 20 years earlier, Harry has never once stepped foot outside his bar. Nevertheless, he habitually voices  his pipe dream to take a walk through the neighborhood. When his old friend Theodore “Hickey”  Hickman arrives to celebrate his 60th birthday, Hickey wishes to convince Harry and his friends to destroy their illusions about themselves. Though Hickey’s mission infuriates Harry, he eventually does, after great protestation, dress up and walk out of the bar. Only making it to the corner, and using reckless automobile drivers as an excuse for his failure, Harry is in fact terrified of life outside the bar. When Hickey confesses that he killed his wife, laughed over her dead body, and called her a “damned bitch” (3:700), he begs Harry to agree that he must have been insane to say such a thing (though in fact he killed her out of hatred for her guilt-inducing ability to forgive). As Hickey is led  away by detectives, Harry seizes on this false admission as a means by which to revert the bar back to  its former, comfortable state of oblivion. Harry’s last name can thus be taken two ways: either the loss of hope or the retention of it, depending on one’s reading of the character and the play as a whole.

Kalmar, Hugo Boarder at Harry Hope’s saloon, former editor of a radical journal, and has been  activist in the anarchist movement. The description of Hugo in the stage directions exactly  matches that of O’Neill’s Czech anarchist associate, Hippolyte Havel. Havel was an editor at the  anarchist Revolt magazine when O’Neill worked there, and he was also the basis for the character Hartman in The Personal Equation, as well as former lover of Emma Goldman. In Iceman, Hugo “has a head much too big for his body, a high forehead, crinkly long black hair streaked with gray, a square face with a pug nose, a walrus mustache, black eyes which peer from behind thick-lensed spectacles” (3:565–566). Like Havel, Hugo dresses impeccably, wears a black Windsor tie and a threadbare black suit, and bears the “stamp of an alien radical, a strong resemblance to the type Anarchist as portrayed, bomb in hand, in newspaper cartoons” (3:566). O’Neill biographer Louis Sheaffer suggests that his name, Kalmar, is a reduction of “Karl Marx” (495). Hugo spent 10 years in prison for his anarchist activities abroad, and although the movement abandoned him years before, he still considers himself a major political figure.

Director and critic Eric Bentley wrote a famously disparaging essay on The Iceman Cometh (which he himself directed at one time), pointing to Hugo’s character as too indicative of Expressionism—too much a “literary concept”—for a realistic play like The Iceman Cometh (quoted in Alexander 1953, 362). In actual fact, as Doris Alexander points out in rebuttal, Hippolyte Havel’s personality has been described in precisely the same way as O’Neill  describes Hugo. One telling example is the radical socialite Mabel Dodge Luhan’s description of  Havel’s response to a conversation between Goldman and “Big Bill” Haywood of the Industrial  Workers of the World: “‘They talk like goddam bourgeois,’ suddenly cried Hippolyte Havel  in a high, peevish voice, glaring around through the thick lenses of his spectacles. . . . ‘My little sister!’ he exclaimed to me later that evening, in  his sweet whining voice. ‘My little goddam bourgeois capitalist sister!’ And tears ran over his spectacles” (quoted in Alexander 1953, 362). Hugo  recurrently recites the lines, “The days grow hot—oh, Babylon! ’Tis cool beneath thy willow trees,” which come from Ferdinand Freiligrath’s  poem “Revolution” about the exiled revolutionaries of the 1848 uprisings throughout central  Europe (published in English in the March 1910 issue of Emma Goldman’s radical journal Mother Earth). Doris Alexander provides several readings of O’Neill’s intended use of the poem in Eugene O’Neill’s Last Plays (2005, 33).

Lewis, Cecil “The Captain”

Boarder at Harry  Hope’s bar and former captain in the British infantry during the Boer War. O’Neill describes him  “as obviously English as Yorkshire pudding and just as obviously the former army officer” (3:567). Close to 60, with white hair and a military mustache, Lewis is introduced passed out and shirtless, with a scar on his shoulder indicating a war wound. He and Piet Wetjoen, who was a commando leader forthe Boers during the war, met while working in the Boer War spectacle at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. The former enemies have been, according to Larry Slade, “bosom pals ever since” (3:584). O’Neill probably met their counterparts through James Findlater Byth, the model for James “Jimmy Tomorrow” Cameron, who worked as a press agent for the Boer spectacle in New York.

Lewis’s pipe dream is to be welcomed home  to Great Britain as a war hero. But when Theodore “Hickey” Hickman arrives at the bar and  challenges them to follow through with their pipe dreams, Wetjoen and Lewis fall out of friendship, and Wetjoen accuses him of having destroyed his reputation by gambling his regiment’s money away.  Lewis insists that a friend of his at the British Consulate will give him a position as a clerk for the  Cunard shipping company, but Wetjoen cruelly responds that the men at the consulate who offered him a job did so on the spot to be rid of him and avoid a scandal. Lewis and Wetjoen reconcile after both realize that their pipe dreams will never come true. Lewis rejoices with the others when Harry agrees with Hickey that he must have been insane when Hickey murdered his wife—a false diagnosis that allows Joe and the rest to reinstate their pipe dreams and get drunk in peace.


Plainclothes detective who, with his partner Moran, arrests Theodore “Hickey” Hickman for killing his wife. Lieb is 20-something, and he and his middle-aged partner “look ordinary in every way, without anything distinctive to indicate what they do for a living” (3:692). O’Neill biographer Louis Sheaffer notes that lieb is German for love, and his partner’s  name, Moran, calls to mind “morgue” or “mourning.” Sheaffer suggests the two names symbolize  O’Neill’s twin themes of love and death and that O’Neill hints at Hickey’s fate by having Moran do the talking for both detectives (495).


Prostitute at Harry Hope’s bar. Margie’s pimp is Harry Hope’s night bartender, Rocky  Pioggi. Just over 20 years old, with brown hair, hazel eyes, and too much makeup, Margie is “a slum New Yorker of mixed blood” (3:600). Margie’s pipe dream is that she is a “tart,” not a “whore.” When  Theodore “Hickey” Hickman descends upon Harry Hope’s to strip away their pipe dreams, Rocky calls her and her fellow prostitute Pearl “whores,” and the two go “on strike” to Coney Island. When they return, Hickey has been arrested, the bar has returned to normal, and Rocky gallantly declares he’ll “knock de block off anyone calls you whores!” (3:709).

McGloin, Pat Boarder at Harry Hope’s bar and former corrupt police lieutenant. In his 50s with dusty blond hair and sagging jowls, McGloin has the look of his former profession “stamped all over him. . . . His face must once have been brutal and greedy, but time and whiskey have melted it down into a good-humored, parasite’s characterlessness” (3:567). McGloin was fired under corruption charges, and he dreams of clearing his name and rejoining the force. He and Ed Mosher are good friends, and he humors the former Harvard Law School graduate Willie Oban that Willie can some day defend him in court. Though he claims he “took the fall for the ones higher up,” McGloin longs for the “fine  pickings” he hears of the graft the police are collecting (3:596). When Theodore “Hickey” Hickman arrives to celebrate Harry Hope’s birthday and  challenge each man to confront his pipe dreams, McGloin and Mosher argue, as do all the other Hickey-agitated inmates at the bar. McGloin calls Mosher a “crooked grifter” (3:671), and Mosher calls him a “flannel-mouth, flat-foot Mick” (3:667). McGloin attempts to talk over his case with the  police chief, but he returns in defeat. When detectives arrest Hickey for killing his wife, Harry Hope  chalks up the disruption to Hickey’s self-diagnosis of insanity. Once the detectives arrest Hickey,  McGloin, along with the rest, resumes his friendship with Mosher and his pipe dream. In the final  scene of the play, when all of the men sing separate nostalgic songs, McGloin sings “Tammany,” which John Raleigh considers an appropriate choice by O’Neill, as the song is “an affectionate but lively  satire on Tammany politics” (“Historical Background” 1968, 62).


Plainclothes detective who, with his partner Lieb, arrests Theodore “Hickey” Hickmanfor killing his wife. Moran is middle-aged, and he and his younger partner “look ordinary in every way, without anything distinctive to indicate what they do for a living” (3:692). O’Neill biographer Louis Sheaffer notes that the name Moran calls to mind “morgue” or “mourning,” and his partner’s name, Lieb, is German for love. Louis Sheaffer suggests the two names symbolize O’Neill’s twin themes of love and death and that O’Neill hints at Hickey’s fate when Moran “does all the talking” for both men (495).

Morello, Chuck

Bartender at Harry Hope’s bar and Cora’s pimp and perpetual fiancé. Chuck  arrives late in act 1 and is not a particularly well- rounded character compared to the others. He is a  healthy, “tough, thick-necked, barrel-chested Italian- American, with a fat, amiable, swarthy face” (3:604).  O’Neill introduces him wearing “a straw hat with a vivid band, a loud suit, tie and shirt, and yellow shoes” (3:604). Although he is Cora’s pimp, the two share the pipe dream that they will buy a farm in New Jersey and get married. Chuck goes on drunken “periodicals” and often gets into brawls, while Cora  is an alcoholic prostitute and thief. When Theodore “Hickey” Hickman descends upon the bar,  they accept his challenge to get married and go off together. On the way to the ferry, however, Cora gets drunk on sherry “flips,” and Chuck abandons her in disgust. He also gets drunk and winds up in a fight. Realizing that their betrothal is just a pipe dream, Chuck admits, “Yeah. Hickey got it right. A lousy pipe dream. . . . On’y it was fun, kinda, me and Cora kiddin’ ourselves” (3:683). After Hickey is led off by the police for killing his wife and the bar returns to normal, Chuck and Cora resume their dream. Cora laughs, in self-delusion, at the thought of moving to New Jersey when they still needed find an appropriate farm.

Mosher, Ed

Boarder at Harry Hope’s bar, former ticket salesman in a traveling circus, and Harry Hope’s brother-in-law. Nearing 60 and overweight, Mosher “has a round kewpie’s face—a kewpie who is an unshaven habitual drunkard” (3:567–568). His clothing and accoutrements reflect his former career in the circus, with gaudy clothes, fake rings, and a gold chain without a watch. He has a touch of the  confidence man about him, but he has always been “too lazy to carry crookedness beyond petty swindling” (3:568). Mosher is most likely based on Jack Croke, a regular at the Garden Hotel and the circus ticket man who gave O’Neill the idea for The Emperor Jones (Alexander 2005, 47). Mosher sucks up to Harry even more than the others, mainly out of habit as a social parasite, though he is really no  more a freeloader than any of Harry’s other boarders. His pipe dream is to return to the traveling life  of the circus, though he has no real desire to leave Harry’s.

Mosher is, ironically, a close friend of the corrupt ex-policeman, Pat McGloin. McGloin and Mosher  have a falling-out when Theodore “Hickey” Hickman arrives at the bar to celebrate Harry’s birthday  and wipe away the men’s pipe dreams, thus disrupting the natural rhythms of the bar’s social order.  But like the others, they reconcile once Hickey is taken away by the police for murdering his wife, and they rationalize Hickey’s talk as having been that of a madman.

In the final scene of act 1, Mosher relates the  story of an 80-year-old “snake oil salesman” pretending to be a doctor. Mosher’s punch line is that  the “doctor” died regretting that he could not fulfill his dream of spreading his “miraculous cure” so there “wouldn’t be a single vacant cemetery lot  left in this glorious country” (3:616). Judith Barlow suggests that Mosher’s conartist doctor is a  “picture in miniature of Hickey,” and she gives the anecdote more significance than it may appear to deserve, since O’Neill expanded his original story by 200 words, and like Hickey, the quack doctor is “peddling death” (30).

Mott, Joe

Boarder at Harry Hope’s bar and former proprietor of a Negro gambling house. The  only black person among the denizens of the bar, Joe is around 50, “brown-skinned, stocky,” and wears  clothes that once were sporty but are now falling apart. “His face is only mildly Negroid in type”  (3:566). Joe is based on Joe Smith, a small-time gangster O’Neill met at the Hell Hole who told him the story that inspired The Dreamy Kid. O’Neill’s second wife, Agnes Boulton, describes Smith as “the boss of the Negro underworld near[Greenwich] Village [whose] tales were startling” (quoted in Floyd 154). Joe performs odd jobs for Harry and the bartenders to pay for drinks and  dreams of once again taking his place as the proprietor of a respectable all-black gambling establishment. Regardless of his race, Joe is an insider at  the bar, though during the upheaval of Theodore “Hickey” Hickman’s intervention, the men shout  racist epithets at him. Joe offers perhaps the clearest articulation of Hickey’s method of conversion:  “Listen to me, you white boys! Don’t you get it in your heads I’s pretendin’ to be what I ain’t, or dat I ain’t proud to be what I is, get me?” (3:625).

Harry’s other regulars generally consider him “white”—a racist vernacular term from the period that connotes both personal integrity and racial superiority. Doris Alexander points to Joe’s pipe dream as one of the first conceived by O’Neill. In his Work Diary notes for the summer of 1921,  he considers a play titled either “White” or “Honest Honey Boy”: “‘Joe’—tragic-comedy of negro  gambler (Joe Smith)—8 scenes—4 in N.Y. of his heyday—4 in present N.Y. of Prohibition times, his decline” (quoted in Alexander 2005, 46). Joe leaves Harry’s in a fit of anger, vowing to raise the  money to open a new establishment “if I has to borrow a gun and stick up some white man” (3:660).  Joe returns to the bar defeated, but he rejoices when Harry agrees that Hickey must have been  insane when he murdered his wife—a false diagnosis that allows Joe and the rest to reinstate their  pipe dreams and get drunk in peace.

Oban, Willie

Boarder at Harry Hope’s bar, a graduate of Harvard Law School, and son of Bill Oban, “King of the Bucket Shops.” Willie is in his late 30s and despite his age is one of the worst alcoholics in the bar, possibly the worst. O’Neill describes him as generally filthy in appearance and dressed in clothes that “belong to a scarecrow”; his  long, unkempt hair straggles over a “haggard, dissipated face” (3:568). Willie’s father is based on  Al Adams, a high-end racketeer whom O’Neill’s father, James O’Neill, befriended in the taproom at the Ansonia Hotel at Broadway and 73rd Street in New York City. Adams served time in Sing Sing, a prison north of the city. The scandal humiliated his  sons, who had no idea he made his money through bucket shops (illegal stock-trading establishments). Adams eventually committed suicide out of guilt and, possibly, fear of more prison time. As is the case with Willie, Adams’s sons attended the best schools money could buy, but they were ostracized when the truth about their father became public (see Alexander 2005, 9–15). As Willie describes his stay at Harvard, “I was accepted socially with all the warm cordiality that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow would have shown a drunken Negress dancing the can can at high noon on Brattle Street.” “Harvard,” he continues, “was my father’s idea,” as Bill Oban wanted his son to gain the finest legal education he could and learn the loopholes (3:585). Rather than committing suicide, Willie’s father died serving a life sentence.

Willie’s dreams of returning to the legal profession by convincing the district attorney (DA) to  acknowledge his superior legal mind and grant him a position (a particular absurdity since it was the DA who locked up his father in the first place). He offers to defend Pat McGloin and, thinking him on the lam, Don Parritt. When Theodore “Hickey” Hickman arrives at Harry’s bar to persuade the men into giving up their pipe dreams, Willie pretends to head out for an interview with the DA but spends the day at the park. Upon his return, he accepts Harry’s rationale that Hickey was insane and, like the rest at the bar, resumes his dissipated lifestyle in a shroud of illusion.

Parritt, Don

The son of Rosa Parritt, Larry Slade’s former lover in the anarchist movement. He is a good-looking, sportily dressed 18-year-old with curly blond hair. O’Neill specifies in his stage directions that Parritt’s “personality is unpleasant. . . .  There is a shifting defiance and ingratiation in his light-blue eyes and an irritating aggressiveness in his manner”  (3:576). Parritt has taken a room at Harry Hope’s  bar just prior to the action of the play and is considered an outsider among Harry’s regulars; Rocky and  others have nicknamed him “cheapskate” because  he had previously revealed a wad of bills inadvertently but refused to buy the others drinks.

In act 1, Parritt pretends to be hiding from investigators. We find by act 2, however, that he received money from the authorities after turning in his mother, Rosa Parritt, and other conspirators of a West Coast anarchist bombing (one reason, conceivably, why O’Neill named him for an animal that “squawks”). Rosa was convicted and sentenced to life in prison; for a freedom-loving, promiscuous anarchist like Rosa, this was tantamount to a death  sentence. Throughout the play’s action, Parritt desperately seeks Larry Slade’s help to assuage his guilt  and understand why he betrayed his mother. Larry is the only father figure in his life, but whether Larry is actually Parritt’s father, as Parritt suspects he might be, is ambiguous. Earlier drafts indicate that in O’Neill’s mind, Parritt’s father had died long before (Barlow 51).

Parritt’s offstage betrayal of his mother and Theodore “Hickey” Hickman’s murder of his wife, Evelyn, closely parallel one another. Throughout Hickey’s confessional monologue in act 4, Parritt continually interrupts to draw parallels between  the two situations, thus “parroting” Hickey’s confession. Hickey rejects the comparison, lying to  himself that “There was love in my heart, not hate” (3:691). This admission, we discover, is a part of Hickey’s pipe dream—that he killed his wife out of love rather than hate. Ironically, the young Parritt understands himself better than Hickey, and he eventually accepts Larry’s solution of jumping from the fire escape to put an end to his guilt.

Parritt’s betrayal is based on the actual anarchist dynamiting of the Los Angeles Times building  that killed 20 people on October 1, 1910. What  happened next over the course of the investigation is complicated, but the case points to Parritt  being modeled after Donald Meserve, the anarchist Gertie Vose’s son, who was hired by the Burns  detective agency to spy on his mother and other anarchists, including Emma Goldman and Terry Carlin (the model for Larry Slade and the one who importantly gave O’Neill the story; Sheaffer 386).  Rosa Parritt, Don’s mother, has thus been identified as Gertie Vose and/or Goldman (see Frazer  passim and Alexander 2005, 34–36). In a biblical reading of the play, Parritt can be read as Judas Iscariot (see Day). He is also a subtle portrait of O’Neill himself, desperately attempting to come to grips with the conflicting feelings of hatred and  love toward his mother, Mary Ellen “Ella” O’Neill. Finally, as biographer Stephen A. Black argues, Parritt might be an avatar of O’Neill’s second son, Shane Rudraighe O’Neill, whose immaturity and desperate need for his father’s approval correlate to Parritt’s psychic pain. Emotionally ill-equipped to address his son’s needs, as his father, James O’Neill, was for him, the playwright “tried to understand  his son in the best way he could, by seeking to capture his son’s voice and his frailty in creating the  doomed Don Parritt” (Black 435).


Prostitute at Harry Hope’s bar. Pearl’s pimp is Harry Hope’s night bartender, Rocky Pioggi. Just over 20, with black hair and eyes and cakedon makeup, Pearl looks “obviously Italian” (3:600). Pearl’s pipe dream is that she is a “tart,”  not a “whore.” When Theodore “Hickey” Hickman comes to Harry Hope’s to strip away their  pipe dreams, Rocky calls her and her fellow prostitute Margie “whores,” and the two go “on strike”  to Coney Island. When they return, Hickey has been arrested, the bar has returned to normal, and Rocky gallantly declares that he will “knock de block off anyone calls you whores!” (3:709).

Pioggi, Rocky

The night bartender at Harry Hope’s bar and Pearl and Margie’s pimp. O’Neill  describes Rocky, based on Tom Wallace’s bar- tender John Bull at the Hell Hole, as a “Neopolitan-American in his late twenties, squat and muscular,  with a flat, swarthy face and beady eyes. . . . A tough guy but sentimental, in his way, and good-natured” (3:569). In the longest monologue of the play with the exception of Theodore “Hickey” Hickman’s (O’Neill’s longest ever), Rocky explains how he argued with his “stable”—Pearl and Margie—over the fact that he referred to them as “whores” instead of “tarts” (3:656), thus contradicting their pipe dream as Hickey would have it. In their turn, they call him a “pimp,” as it is his pipe dream that he works as a legitimate bartender, and defiantly leave for Coney Island.

Intensely loyal to Harry Hope, Rocky serves as an ever-present sounding board for the rest of the gang. Like all good bartenders, he humors each of their pipe dreams, and they appreciate him for it.Over the course of Hickey’s attempts to wash away all pipe dreams, he turns viciously against everyone  at the bar—even pulling a gun on the other bartender Chuck Morello—but steadfastly attempts  to control himself and others for Harry’s sake. At one point, he attempts to persuade Larry Slade and Don Parritt to become pimps. “The peace Hickey’s brought you,” Larry responds. “It isn’t contented enough, if you have to make everyone else a pimp, too” (3:687). Once Hickey is taken off to jail and pronounced insane by Harry, Rocky dutifully and happily returns to his job and his pipe dream.

Slade, Larry

Boarder at Harry Hope’s bar and a former activist in the anarchist movement. Larry is 60 years old with long straggling white hair and “a gaunt Irish face with a big nose, high cheekbones, a lantern jaw with a week’s stubble of beard, a mystic’s  meditative pale-blue eyes with a gleam of sharp sardonic humor in them” (3:566). As Michael Manheim describes him, Larry’s character is “our guide  through O’Neill’s personal emotional hell and also spokesman for the philosophical despair which seem to underlie this play” (1). Larry is a close portrait of Terry Carlin, an Irish-born alcoholic vagabond whom O’Neill befriended in 1915–16 at  the Hell Hole in Greenwich Village. Carlin introduced the budding playwright and fellow Irishman to philosophical anarchism (O’Neill’s self-professed philosophy) in the winter of 1915–16 and to the Provincetown Players in the summer of 1916. Larry can also be read as a window into that aspect of O’Neill himself that lived a lie of disaffectedness,  that “tried with almost no success to harden himself against knowing the thoughts and feelings of  everyone he saw” (Black 423).

Larry worked within the secretive networks of the anarchists for 30 years, during which time he conducted a relationship with Rosa Parritt, Don Parritt’s mother. By the time of the play, 1912, Larry considers the movement “only a beautiful pipe dream,” one that demands of its followers to “wear blinders like a horse and see only straight in  front of you” (3:580). Larry’s inclination to consider all sides of an issue (an ability that he considers an affliction) and his general disdain for the  common man made him useless as a revolutionary.  Ten years before the action of the play, he abandoned the movement for good. Since his decision,  he admits, “I’ve been a philosophical drunken bum, and proud of it” (3:581). Along with philosophical anarchism, Larry’s nihilistic attitude and distrust of the “herd”—society in general—reflect much of  the philosophy of one of O’Neill’s greatest influences, Friedrich Nietzsche.

Larry boasts that he alone, among the men at  the bar, muddles on without the comfort of a life-sustaining pipe dream. In fact, though most of the  men have only one or two pipe dreams, Larry has  four: his disavowal of the importance of the anarchist movement and its members, his uncaring  attitude toward the fate of Rosa Parritt, the ideas that he longs for death, and the notion that he exists in the “grandstand” as an uncaring observer of the lives going on around him (Barlow 46). Larry voices admiration for people strong enough to live by their convictions, which he finds himself too weak-willed and fearful to do. He plainly cares about Rosa Parritt when he advises her son Don to commit suicide for his betrayal. He is terrified of  dying, as we ascertain by the fear in his eyes whenever Hickey broaches the subject of his death. And  he warmly appreciates the contributions of others  at the bar, understands their needs, and angers easily when their peace is threatened. When Theodore “Hickey” Hickman arrives with the messianic  goal of destroying the illusions of Harry’s inmates, Larry Slade (“slayed”) becomes Hickey’s “only real convert to death” (3:710). In the end, like Lavinia Mannon in Mourning Becomes Electra, Larry accepts that life without hope for the future becomes a living death (Bogard 417).

Wetjoen, Piet “The General”

Boarder at Harry  Hope’s bar and a former Boer (Dutch South African colonialist) leader during the Boer War in  South Africa. O’Neill describes Wetjoen as “in his fifties, a huge man with a bald head and a long grizzled  beard. . . . A Dutch farmer type, his once great muscular strength has been debauched into flaccid tallow.  But . . . there is still a suggestion of old authority lurking in him like a memory of the drowned” (3:566–  567). Wetjoen and Cecil Lewis, who was a captain in the British infantry during the war, met whileworking in the Boer War Spectacle at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair and have been, according to Larry Slade, “bosom pals ever since” (3:584). O’Neill probably met their counterparts through James Findlater Byth, the model for James “Jimmy Tomorrow” Cameron, who worked as a press agent for the Boer Spectacle in New York.

Wetjoen’s dream is to return to South Africa to  a hero’s welcome. After Theodore “Hickey” Hickman convinces the men to attempt to bring their  dreams to fruition, Wetjoen falls out with Lewis,  at which point Lewis exposes the fact that “a suspicion grew into a conviction” after a battle between  the Boers and the British that Wetjoen had convinced the Boer leader Piet Cronje to surrender  at Paardeberg (February 27, 1900) to save his own life. Wetjoen, for his part, accuses Lewis of having  gambled away his regiment’s money (3:663). Wetjoen claims he can procure a job as a longshoreman  to pay his way home, but Rocky and Lewis say the boss who offered him a job at Harry’s was drunk and pulling his leg. Wetjoen and Lewis reconcile after both fail to achieve their pipe dreams of going home. Wetjoen rejoices with the others when Harry agrees that Hickey must have been insane when he murdered his wife—a false diagnosis that allows Wetjoen and the rest to reinstate their pipe dreams and get drunk in peace.

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Source: Dowling, R. M. (2009). Critical companion to Eugene O’Neill: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work. New York, NY: Facts On File.

Categories: Drama Criticism, Literature

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