Study Guide

The Iceman Cometh Fear

By Eugene O’Neill

Fear

PARRITT: I’ve got to stay undercover, Larry, like I told you last night. (1)

Is Parritt’s fear real, or is it just an act?

PARRITT: I’m getting more and more scared of him. (3)

Whether Parritt is telling the truth about being afraid of Hickey or just saying this to get Larry on his side is up for debate. What’s not up for debate is the fact that this new version of Hickey does freak people out, and this is a big reason they start to turn on him. I’m pretty sure Yoda summed it perfectly when he said, “Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

ROCKY: Say, listen, what d’yuh mean about him bein’ scared you’d ask him questions? What questions? (3)

While Hickey is the great reader of men, Rocky and the others recognize that Larry shows the ability to read Hickey in a way that they can’t. It’s a subtle one, but it’s one of the great conflicts of the play. These two are evenly matched even if Hickey is the more blustery of the two.

WILLIE: I just came back here to rest a few minutes, not because I needed booze. (3)

Willie tells a little lie to hide the fear he feels about going out into the world and to buy himself a little more time before he has to commit. O’Neill connects lies to fear throughout the play.

HARRY HOPE: What’s that? Can’t hear you. Don’t look fine to me. Looks as if it’d pour down cats and dogs any minute. (3)

How is Harry’s way of dealing with fear similar to Willie’s?

HARRY HOPE: Somehow, I can’t feel it’s the right time for me to go, Hickey, even now. It’s like I was doing wrong to her memory. (3)

When Harry feels fear, he quickly falls back onto the idealized version of the past he’s created for himself. Again, this is something he shares with others in the bar. The past and the future—just like the booze they drink—serve as escapes from the fears they have.

LARRY: I’m afraid to live am I?—and even more afraid to die! (3)

Larry says this line not as a confession, but as something he doesn’t believe. This is one of the lines that, ironically, ends up getting right to the heart of Larry, though. If you were going to sum him up in one statement—a trick that can be helpful for play analysis but not necessarily a good idea when first meeting someone—you could use this line.

HARRY HOPE: Bejees, give me a drink quick! Scared me out of a year’s growth! […] Bejees, it ain’t safe to walk in the streets! (3)

Harry invokes fear, so he has an excuse not to change his life in any way. This is quite a nice little move on Harry’s part. He gets away with not having to face his true fear—change—by creating a false fear—dangerous streets.

HUGO: Always there is blood beneath the villow trees! I hate it and I am afraid! (3)

While most of the characters live through pipe dreams, Hugo actually faces an ongoing nightmare. Sleep for Hugo is not a pleasant escape. He often wakes up wildly yelling at all those around him. This is a good way for O’Neill to show us just how bad it is for some of these people. Even when they’re out cold, they still have to deal with their issues.

PARRITT: There must have been something there he was even more scared to face than he is of Hickey and me! I guess he got looking at the fire escape and thinking how handy it was, if he was really sick of life and only had the nerve to die! (4)

Parritt’s comments suggest that Larry fears death more than he fears getting involved in life, and Larry eventually proves Parritt’s theory right. As much as he fights it throughout the play, he does finally weigh in on Parritt’s situation, and when he does, it has some pretty big consequences.

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