Study Guide

The Iceman Cometh Mortality

By Eugene O’Neill

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LARRY: What’s before me is the comforting fact that death is a fine long sleep, and I’m damned tired, and it can’t come too soon for me. (1)

Larry’s thoughts on death and his being through with life are really just his pipe dream. Remember, he’s the guy who says he’s the only one in the bar without a pipe dream, but you know the score—you’re way too clever to buy into that.

LARRY: Yes, it turned out it wasn’t a birthday feast but a wake! (3)

Larry’s little joke manages to tie the ideas of death and birth together rather nicely. This refers back to the poem he recites earlier where he says “Lo, sleep is good; better is death; in sooth,/The best of all were never to be born.” After listening to Larry, it wouldn’t be a huge leap to suggest that he’s the type of person who sees birth as the first inevitable step towards death. Wow. He’s not really a guy you’d want at your party.

ROCKY: Like he says, if yuh was so anxious to croak, why wouldn’t yuh hop off your fire escape long ago? (3)

This is the central question that Larry doesn’t manage to answer until almost the very end of the play. Even when he answers it, though, he knows that he won’t take any action to end his life. He’s stuck here.

ROCKY: Jeez, if she committed suicide, yuh got to feel sorry for Hickey, huh? (3)

Is Rocky implying that Hickey wouldn’t deserve pity if his wife died in some other way? Or that Hickey is particularly deserving of pity if his wife killed herself—maybe because of something Hickey has done?

LARRY: Didn’t I tell you he brought death with him? (3)

Right here, Larry elevates Hickey to something almost superhuman. As much as the two argue, Larry’s not afraid to grant that Hickey possesses skills that somehow transcend those of the average person. O’Neill milks this to further the idea of Hickey as a Christ figure. Albeit, a really twisted version of a Christ figure.

LARRY: What did your wife die of? You keep that a secret, I notice—for some reason! (3)

Playing a role like Hickey would involve making some pretty big decisions about the character. If you were to play Hickey, do you think you would enter the bar knowing deep down that you were going to reveal the fact that you killed your wife, or would you let something that happens over the course of the play drive you to confess?

LARRY: Are you trying to make me your executioner? (4)

Larry can’t play the part of his own executioner, but in the end he finds it in himself to play the role for Parritt. In a way, this is the one kindness Larry shows towards Parritt. Even though the result is not necessarily what Larry wants to happen, it is what Parritt wants.

HICKEY: She’d never feel any pain, never wake up from her dream. (4)

Leave it to Hickey to frame murder as an act of love.

HICKEY: I’d have killed myself before I’d ever hurt her! (4)

This is one of those incredible Hickey lines that deserves a closer look. In essence, he is saying that killing Evelyn wasn’t hurting Evelyn. Hurting her was mocking her pipe dream and laughing at her. Killing her, at least according to Hickey, was more like setting her free.

LARRY: Be God, I’m the only real convert to death Hickey made here. (4)

It’s a famous line, because it marks Larry’s realization that he has been lying to himself all along, and now he is really stuck in a life that he has no desire to live.

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