Study Guide

The Iceman Cometh Betrayal

By Eugene O’Neill

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A young man sold out his own mother to the cops. A middle-aged man murdered his wife. Them’s the makings of some super dramatic Lifetime Movie. Murder and jail have sex appeal, but sometimes it’s the little betrayals—the ones between friends—that make for the most interesting conflicts.

Luckily, The Iceman Cometh features betrayals on almost all levels. These back-stabs and turnabouts might stem from Hickey’s manipulations, but they give us a glimpse into what a lot of these characters truly believe. Even though the regulars at Harry’s are relatively close, personal facades have been well established. However, as we’ve learned from The Real World, when people stop acting polite and start acting real, people will totally betray each other.

Questions About Betrayal

  1. Why does it take Parritt so long to confess that he betrayed his mother?
  2. What past betrayals does Hickey feel guilt about? 
  3. What’s the bigger betrayal: Parritt ratting out his mom or Hickey murdering his wife? 
  4. Hickey says he loved Evelyn all along. Can somebody betray someone they truly love?

Chew on This

Parritt’s confession of setting up his mother is not the confession he ultimately makes. The confession he ultimately makes is that he hated his mother.

When viewed from the perspective of the others in the bar, Hickey’s first act of betrayal is choosing not to drink. This one moment sets them on edge immediately.

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