Study Guide

The Iceman Cometh Dreams

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LARRY: Although even here they keep up the appearances of life with a few harmless pipe dreams about their yesterdays and tomorrows. (1)

Early on in the play, Larry already separates himself from the others by suggesting pipe dreams are something they cling to. This is some pretty solid foreshadowing on O’Neill’s part, and honestly it’s not something most people would pick up the first time around, but by the end of the play it seems clear that Larry is truly no longer a part of the group.

JIMMY: Tomorrow, yes. It’s high time I straightened out and got down to business again. (1)

Do you think this is something Jimmy tells himself every day? Is he in some horrible version of Groundhog Day where he just wakes up and goes through the same thing over and over? If this is the case, do you think he has any real desire to change?

HARRY HOPE: Yes, bejees, I’ll do it. My birthday, tomorrow, that’d be the right time to turn over a new leaf. Sixty. That ain’t too old. (1)

Is this what Jimmy will be saying when he turns sixty? That is to say, does O’Neill use Harry to show us what these guys like Jimmy have to look forward to for the rest of their lives?

MCGLOIN: Well, I’m sicker of your kidding me about getting reinstated in the Force. (1)

Even though the characters never truly want to act on them, they’re willing to fight over the “truth” of their pipe dreams. It’s like getting rid of a toy when you were a kid and then freaking out when you find your little brother playing with it. It’s not like you wanted that toy—it’s just you didn’t want him to have it either!

JIMMY: Still, Harry, I have to admit there was some sense in his nonsense. It is time I got my job back—although I hardly need him to remind me. (1)

As much as Jimmy and the others protest, they start to realize that Hickey sees through their lies. Is O’Neill suggesting that when someone sees us for who we are, we get really angry and turn on that person? Are we really that petty?

HARRY HOPE: It was Bessie’s favorite tune. She was always singing it. It brings her back. (2)

Pipe dreams aren’t always about the future, they often take the form of an idealized past. Here’s a picture of what Harry might see when he closes his eyes: it’s NY in the 1890s. It’s all about horse-drawn buggies for Harry.

HICKEY: You’ll be in a today where there is no yesterday or tomorrow to worry you. You won’t give a damn what you are any more. (2)

What has happened in Hickey’s past to make him want to crush the illusion of pipe dreams?

ROCKY: Dey says, “We’re takin’ a holiday. We’re goin’ to beat it down to Coney Island and shoot the chutes and maybe we’ll come back and maybe we won’t. And you can go to hell!” (3)

Why are some characters like Rocky quick to judge others’ pipe dreams but unable to recognize that their own dreams are no less likely to play out? Is this something that happens in everyday life? Does O’Neill think we’re all a little hypocritical at heart?

LEWIS: Oh, anything. I mean, not manual labor, naturally, but anything that calls for a bit of brains and education. (3)

For Lewis, the pipe dream has no specificity, but just the idea of doing “anything” other than what he is currently doing appeals to him. In Lewis’s defense, a lot of people feel that way when they’re at work or school, too.

HICKEY: Well, you know what you can do with your pipe dream now, you damned b****! (4)

Was Hickey “insane” as he claims he was when he said this, or did he bear real hatred for his wife? What pieces of the text can help shed some light on this?

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