We’re not talking about the ones where you can fly or the ones where you show up for an exam and realize you forgot your pants at home. In The Iceman Cometh it’s all about pipe dreams. Those grand scale ambitions that many of us have in vain. The when-I-win-the-lottery-I’m-going-to-do-this-and-that-type dreams. Pipe dreams propel the play. They’re the things the regulars at Harry’s use to hold on to just a little bit of happiness, and they’re the things Hickey comes to kill.
The four walls of Harry’s along with the characters’ pipe dreams place them smack bang in the middle of their own little Purgatory. For most of them, no matter what happens, the next day will be exactly the same as the day before until death—the only source of redemption—arrives.
O’Neill paints a pretty bleak picture of American life in The Iceman Cometh. He seems to be saying that the only way to find happiness is through escape (a.k.a. illusion and alcohol), and the only way to find peace is through death.