The Iceman Cometh | Study Guide

Eugene O'Neill

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The Iceman Cometh | Quotes


[My fellow inmates all have] a touching credulity concerning tomorrows ... Their ships will come in, loaded ... with cancelled regrets and promises fulfilled.

Larry Slade, Act 1

Larry accepts a free drink. Although Harry insists on no free booze, he breaks his own rules to keep his roomers lubricated. Larry's ironic description about the potential for change among the crew makes gentle fun of the troubles that all have encountered and the false hopes that keep them all going. Everyone shares a tacit understanding of how bad things are and how lightly they are taken.


A pimp don't hold no job. I'm a bartender. Dem tarts ... [are] just a sideline.

Rocky Pioggi, Act 1

Every character in the play is deadly earnest and tells the truth as they know it. There is an underlying honesty among this group that demonstrates the humanity and their suffering amid the delusions that keep its members going. The delusions of their pipe dreams, however, predominate throughout the play.


The lie of a pipe dream ... gives life to the whole misbegotten mad lot of us.

Larry Slade, Act 1

Larry acknowledges that man has no access to the truth. Life is about hopes for the future, a plan that lies just out of reach, just beyond the capabilities of the assembled. It is an act of the imagination.


It's ... The End of the Line Café ... because there is no farther they can go.

Larry Slade, Act 1

Parritt, who is 18, asks what sort of place he's in, and Larry, who is the voice of the act, replies clearly and truthfully. For all the self-deception that governs the hopeless lives of the saloon's denizens, the dominating reality is the finality of their positions. Only a thin veneer of dreams constitutes the communal lie of the saloon. Hope is not what dominates. Everyone merely walks in place. This is the reality that is where the play begins.


The tomorrow movement is a sad and beautiful thing, too!

Larry Slade, Act 1

Larry would seem to be speaking for O'Neill when he cites the stark and poignant beauty of hopeless hope.


There is only one possible way out you can help [Parritt] to take.

Hickey, Act 2

Hickey has never met Don Parritt before, but he immediately recognizes what is troubling the young man. He sees that Parritt—like Hickey himself—is seeking punishment so he can finally forgive himself. He recognizes Parritt has lost all his illusions and needs Larry's permission to end his life. However, Hickey warns, to do this Larry has to have "the right kind of pity for him." To show this kind of pity will require Larry to break out of his habitual role as an impartial observer of life.


That's all I did it for! Just money! Honest!

Don Parritt, Act 3

Parritt attempts to woo Larry with the truth. He attempts to prove that he hadn't turned his mother in out of any abstract ethical concerns but simply out of ordinary greed. He's just a plain guy, not a rat. The stage directions comment that he thinks that "confessing his sordid baseness" somehow "exonerates him from any real guilt." Rosa is an anarchist, and Larry was an anarchist in the past. This way, Parritt insists his behavior was not a matter of punishing his mother or Larry for their politics. Yet, this is only a superficial reason, a reason of the moment. Before he dies, Parritt will realize and confess that his true motivation was much more visceral. He resented and hated his mother for neglecting him.


I get job! ... I need vork only leetle vhile to save money for my passage home.

Piet Wetjoen, Act 3

Under the influence of Hickey's convictions, Wetjoen intends to make his pipe dream a reality. Like all the others attached to Hickey, Wetjoen believes for a brief moment in the not just potential but possibility of redeeming the present. The underlying truth everyone present discovers for themselves is that it is the very sense of possibility that is, in fact, the delusion.


I'll be a weak fool looking with pity at the two sides of everything [until] ... I die!

Larry Slade, Act 4

Acknowledging the pain of unresolved ambivalence is an exhausting, perhaps disabling way to live. Yet Larry Slade, like his fellow anarchist Hugo, has real understanding of life's difficulties and its stubborn ambivalences. Hugo has barely survived the test. Larry has achieved a measure of understanding that stands in contrast to the self-delusions of all the others at Harry Hope's saloon.


[Who'd think] we really meant to git married, when we ain't even picked out a farm yet.

Cora, Act 4

This is an example of the turns with respect to emotional integrity and ordinary reality when Cora, thoroughly drunk, assesses her situation. First, she ascribes her and Chuck's preparation and departure for their wedding and the ferry ride to New Jersey as merely a matter of pleasing Hickey. Then her rationalization takes another turn. She cites their lack of planning as evidence they hadn't intended to get married at all when they left the saloon the day before. Thus, a transparent rationalization—or lie—is fueled by a second self-deluding rationalization.


I was out of my mind afterwards, I'd have killed myself before I'd ever hurt her!

Hickey, Act 4

The men in the saloon are trying to convince the police detective Moran that Hickey was insane when he killed his wife. Hickey, however, tells the pathetic truth as he knows it. His deranged reasoning built on self-deluding lies has turned the ethical world upside down. His sober reasoning is the antithesis of the truth. It enforces his upside-down conviction that he did the right thing for Eleanor out of his love for her. In the end, however, his desire to die represents clarity about the horror of a life spent in flight from pain.


A fine bunch of rats! Covering up for a dirty, cold-blooded murderer.

Moran, Act 4

This is Detective Moran's response to Harry's attempt to vouch for Hickey's insanity. Here, the straightforward letter of the law stands in contrast to the nuanced psychological and emotional issues demonstrated in Hickey's explanations and the support of his friends.


Forget dat whore stuff. ... what de hell of it? Yuh're as good as anyone!

Rocky Pioggi, Act 4

Margie and Pearl return after Hickey's arrest. Rocky greets them and gives them a hug. The women smile "and exchange maternally amused glances." The bitter slights of the previous two acts have disappeared. With Hickey gone, Rocky, Margie, and Pearl resume habitual, semi-advantageous relations as though nothing has changed.


I burnt up Mother's picture, Larry. Her eyes ... seemed to be wishing I was dead.

Don Parritt, Act 4

After Hickey admits he tore up Evelyn's picture after killing her, Parritt confesses a similar transgression to Larry. This is one in a litany of confessed similarities. Although Rosa Parritt is still alive, she has lost her freedom and may still be executed. In listening to Hickey's tortured confession, Parritt is forced to come to terms with his true feelings for his mother. He resented—even hated—her, but he loved her too. Since betraying her, he has been suffering intense guilt. Like Hickey, who turned himself in expecting to be executed, Parritt will look for relief in death.


Bejees, fellers, I'm feeling the old kick ... It was Hickey kept it from—Bejees.

Harry Hope, Act 4

Hickey is gone, and Harry can benefit from his liquor once more. He rejects Hickey's pipe dreams while reinstating his own. At the end of the speech, he rationalizes his failure to leave the saloon: he was threatened by sunstroke and automobiles that "damn near ran me over." Pipe dreams in a safe space are preferable to reality's challenges or suicidal despair.

"Bejees" is his linguistic tic and integral to his habitual superficiality in communication. A contraction of "by Jesus," it brands him as Irish-American and a one-time Catholic. Here, he uses the word to complete a thought he would find uncomfortable to speak aloud.

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