Critical Analysis of "The Iceman Cometh" by Eugene

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  • Topic: The Iceman Cometh, Eugene O'Neill, God is dead
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  • Published : May 13, 2013
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Critical Analysis of "The Iceman Cometh" by Eugene
Critical Analysis of "The Iceman Cometh" by Eugene O'Neill

It is a basic law of storytelling that in order for an author to capture and maintain the reader’s interest, the author must create “realistic” characters, ones that are relatable, genuine, and plainly likeable. In the works of Eugene O’Neill, he takes that rule of realistic character development and proceeds to warp and twist it into a beautifully mangled paradigm of raw humanity and pessimism. He formulates characters that are utter derelicts to society, each one desperately hanging on to their hopeless dreams, each one hauntingly familiar to us. O’Neill, one of the more well-known twentieth century American playwrights, borrows from the thinking of Nietzsche to strip away the fluff of human personality, exposing the basic, eternally somber inner workings of the human psyche. In his plays, such as The Ice Man Cometh, O’Neill consistently portrays a classic nihilistic theme that there is no God, one of the first in his field to toy with the idea. He preaches that there is no great reward in life, that even after years, perhaps even a lifetime of suffering, there is no pay off – the only thing you get is the relief that is death.

O’Neill’s The Ice Man Cometh, a play brought to Broadway which went on to celebrated success, is the story of, more or less, drunken slobs. The play’s epicenter is a bar/boarding house where a group of drunken derelicts seem to live. The hotel being named after the owner, Harry Hope, is laughably ironic, seeing as how most all of the bar flies have little or no hope left in there lives, yet they all dream of their tomorrows – paying their bills tomorrow, getting their job back tomorrow, making a fresh start tomorrow. The plot revolves around the many bar attendees, but sixty year old Larry Slade plays the role of the bitter objective commentator, a person who has decidedly removed himself from the anarchist group called “The Movement” and the responsibilities of mainstream life. He and his companions eagerly await the arrival of their salesman friend Hickey, who comes down twice a year to waste all off his money on buying everyone drinks. However before Hickey arrives, Don Parrit, the son of an ex-lover of Larry’s, a woman who was also in the Movement, comes to Larry seeking help. Apparently the Movement has nearly collapsed on account of someone selling the group out, resulting in the arrest of Parrit’s mother, Rosa. Shortly afterwards, Hickey arrives, which would usually put the men in good spirits. Hickey has changed though, and instead of being his usual enjoyable self, his is sullen and depressed, evangelically preaching to the others that they should renounce their “pipe dreams” as he has; that it is only when this is done can one truly obtain free will, a doctrine that Larry has already put into effect. That night, they celebrate Harry’s birthday, but everyone has become irritable and quarrelsome, what with Hickey’s grouchiness and unwillingness to drink. The story reaches its climax when Hickey announces the death of his wife, and all the character become infuriated with Hickey for reminding them of their pathetic grasp on pipe dreams, prompting them all to finally get moving towards turning those pipe dreams into realities. However their dreams fall apart the second they start, and they all return to the bar in the end; however their shreds of hope have been dashed by their confrontations with reality, and they all resent Hickey. Hickey then tells them that he actually killed his wife out of sheer hatred for constant forgiveness, and Parrit admits that he sold out his mother and the movement for similar reasons. Overcome with guilt, Parrit asks Larry to sentence his punishment, while Harry turns himself into the police, believing himself to be insane. Larry finally confronts his own fear of death by ordering Parrit’s suicide, in the end leaving Larry with his own desire for...
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