Written by American playwright Eugene O’Neill, The Iceman Cometh is a classic piece of American theatre and has been performed on stages all over the world since it was first produced in 1939. It tells the story of a group of characters who spend their days drinking in a New York City bar during the early 1930s.
One of the main themes of The Iceman Cometh is disillusionment. This theme is explored through the bar’s patrons, who come to terms with the realization that their dreams and plans for success have not come to fruition.
Another prominent theme is mortality. This theme is represented through several characters including Don Parritt, who worries about his impending death due to a terminal illness; Joe Mott, an African-American gambler whose desire for freedom seems futile; and Jim Harris, an aging former laborer whose body can no longer withstand hard labor. These characters serve as reminders that life is finite and mortality should be respected rather than taken for granted.
The central symbol of The Iceman Cometh is its title character—the iceman himself—who serves as a reminder that death cannot be avoided or denied forever. Throughout the play, characters attempt to push away thoughts of death or avoid difficult conversations by drinking heavily; however, these attempts are eventually futile when confronted with the inevitability of mortality represented by the iceman himself.