Course Hero Logo
Literature Study GuidesThe Iceman Cometh

The Iceman Cometh | Study Guide

Eugene O'Neill

Get the eBook on Amazon to study offline.

Buy on Amazon Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "The Iceman Cometh Study Guide." Course Hero. 2 Aug. 2019. Web. 9 June 2023. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2019, August 2). The Iceman Cometh Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved June 9, 2023, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2019)



Course Hero. "The Iceman Cometh Study Guide." August 2, 2019. Accessed June 9, 2023.


Course Hero, "The Iceman Cometh Study Guide," August 2, 2019, accessed June 9, 2023,



Eugene O'Neill

First Performed





Drama, Tragedy

About the Title

The title, The Iceman Cometh, recalls an off-color joke and, with the archaic verb (cometh is an archaic form of the third-person, present tense of come: comes), a quotation from the gospel of Matthew. In both cases, according to Eugene O'Neill's longtime friend, the American screenwriter and director Dudley Nichols (1865–1960), O'Neill's stated intention was to link the profane and the sacred. The play—which includes the arrival of Hickey, a false Messiah figure—parodies Matthew 25:6, which describes the Savior's arrival: "And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him."

The bawdy joke involves an iceman who delivers ice to a housebound wife. Her frequently absent husband, a traveling salesman, returns home and shouts upstairs to his wife, "Has the iceman come yet?"—to which she answers, "No, but he's breathing hard." In the play, Hickey arrives at his favorite saloon; he is sober and determined to save his drunken friends as he has been saved. Hickey represents the whole cast of the joke; he is a salesman, an iceman, a drunk, and an adulterer. His story ends with his arrest. He has iced (gangster slang for "murdered") his wife and is expected to be burned (gangster slang for "electrocuted").


This study guide for Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh offers summary and analysis on themes, symbols, and other literary devices found in the text. Explore Course Hero's library of literature materials, including documents and Q&A pairs.

Buy this book from
Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about The Iceman Cometh? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!