The Iceman Cometh
by Eugene O’Neill
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Speaking of death… O’Neill keeps bringing the downers with his imagery of the sea. In The Iceman Cometh, the sea never stands in as a means of exploration or journey or a cool Spring Break getaway. Nope, it’s all about death. Very early in the play, we see Harry’s described as “The No Chance Saloon. It’s Bedrock Bar, The End of the Line Café, The Bottom of the Sea Rathskeller!” (1). Larry goes on to explain that once you arrive at Harry’s, there’s no place left to go.
Larry’s not the only one who’s got the sea-as-death imagery thing going on. Just a few minutes after his long awaited arrival, Hickey evokes images of the sea again and links that vast, open water directly with death. He says to Larry (or maybe just to himself), “You can let yourself go at last. Let yourself sink down to the bottom of the sea. Rest in peace” (1). Hickey was supposed to be the fun one, right?
A feeling exists from the beginning of the play until the end that these characters have reached the end of the line. There is nothing left for them but this existence in the purgatory that is Harry’s. In some ways, though, the sea imagery implies that these men are already dead. Not in the “Oh, man did you see the end of The Sixth Sense, because that twist was crazy?” kind of way, but dead in the way that they have simply given up on life. They have already arrived at the bottom of the sea, and there’s nothing left for them.