The Iceman Cometh and the Anatomy of Alcoholism


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

It would be difficult to imagine a work of literature more thoroughly steeped in alcohol than Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh; with few exceptions every character in the large cast is or appears to be a confirmed drunkard. The central character of the play, however-Theodore Hickman, known simply and affectionately as Hickey to his drinking companions at Harry Hope's skid-row saloon--confuses his friends when he shows up sober instead of drunk to celebrate Harry's birthday. The fact that Hickey was a periodic drunk who never mixed alcohol with work and went on a spree only twice a year would not have raised doubts about the reality of his alcoholism for O'Neill, who was himself a periodic alcoholic until age thirty-seven when he began an almost totally successful abstinence for the rest of his life.1

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