The Iceman Cometh
by Eugene O’Neill
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Chances are when you’re driving around you don’t stop to ponder the great meaning of all of the cars and trucks on the road. There’s music to listen to, places to go, and traffic to deal with. Plus, you see cars all the time, so it’s really not that big of a deal.
That’s not the case in the play. It’s 1912, and automobiles are still exciting and new. On top of that, Harry Hope hasn’t stepped outside for twenty years. The last time he walked around the neighborhood there weren’t any cars on the road.
For Harry Hope, automobile imagery marks the impending doom that comes with change. He uses the idea of the automobile to try to make his last stand against Hickey and justify not walking outside. He says to anyone who will listen, “But I’ll have to watch out for those damned automobiles. Wasn’t none of them around the last time, twenty years ago” (3).
When Harry bails on his walk and quickly runs back to the safety and comfort of his bar, he blames his failure on an automobile that clearly didn’t even exist. “Feller driving it must be drunk or crazy. He’d run me right over if I hadn’t jumped,” he explains to Rocky, Larry, and Hickey while he tries to get them to admit they all saw it, too (3).
Hickey, always the illusion killer, calls Harry out on the imaginary car. Here’s how it goes down:
HICKEY: Come on, Governor. What’s the use of being stubborn, now when it’s all over and dead? Give up that ghost automobile. (3)
HARRY HOPE: Yes, what’s the use—now? All a lie! No automobile. But, bejees, something ran over me! Must have been myself, I guess. (3)
Hickey knows that automobiles aren’t what Harry fears. He fears change.