Book Review: The Iceman Cometh
by Shannon Dennehy
Class of 2015
This question reverberates within Harry Hope’s saloon throughout Act I as the bar patrons look for their annual buyer of drinks and teller of jokes.
“Where’s Hickey?” worries Hope, only waking to lift his head off the table.
“Where’s Hickey?” sings Willie, before lapsing into his ditty of a sailor lad.
“Where’s Hickey?”questions Hickey himself, leading this grinning salesman back to Hope’s with more than a product to sell.
Eagerly expounding his newfound seat on the wagon, Hickey informs the bar room filled with his friends, friends who spend their days boozing and dreaming, that he, at long last, has found peace with himself.
He is a new man.
He no longer possesses pipe dreams, the bane (or lifeline) of every regular at Hope’s: “No boys and girls… I know now from experience what a lying pipe dream can do to you and how damned relieved and contented with yourself you feel when you’re rid of it.”
Yes boys and girls, Hickey acts relieved and contented. He claims to have found peace and simply wants to help his friends to find their own.
But why is he so desperate to bring his friends peace? What is the peace that he has found? How did he find it? And does it even exist?
It’s difficult to judge a play after only reading the script. Something is lost when that which is meant to be witnessed on stage is experienced on a library chair amidst the humming of computers. However, in reading “The Iceman Cometh” by Eugene O’Neil, every stage direction is rendered significant; nothing escapes the reader’s eye.
Like Larry, you’re able to take everything in, observe and listen to everything around you. You witness how crippling your friends’ pipe dreams are. Hope will never leave the bar and take a walk. Cora and Chuck will never get married and own a farm in New Jersey. McGloin will never return to the force. And Jimmy Tomorrow will never get his job back because he, like everyone one else, keeps waiting for tomorrow.
That’s where Hickey comes in. He seeks to destroy every pipe dream though his motivation is unclear. Larry is appalled at this ambition and looks on in pity when Jimmy enters the room in a new suit for he knows he will never get the job: it is only a pipe dream. But Jimmy leaves and Hope starts his walk, but both return, unable to complete their tasks.
And when they return, they are utterly miserable. Hope sits at a table, depressed in his knowledge of the lies and illusions he has created. The men all turn on Hickey, who has violently forced them out of their dream worlds into reality.
Then the police officers arrive and the truth comes out. Hickey spills all.
And Larry, who has been begging for death (his pipe dream) since he abandoned the Movement, confronts it in its most horrific form.
“The Iceman Cometh” is not just a story about a bar. It’s not even a story about impossible dreams. It is a story of lies, illusion, hatred, and purgatory. And there’s only one way to escape, O’Neil muses. Read “The Iceman Cometh” to find out!