The characters, in Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, are remarkably motionless, drinking and daydreaming. However, their portrayal is based upon motion and continuous shift from one image to another. These images are meant to reflect the (post)modern psychological and socio-political conditions in which the derelicts are trapped, and probe issues related to human existence and human identity. Much has been said about the characters in O’Neill’s play and their portrayal in a way that reflects the playwright’s nihilistic vision about Man and society. However, the bulky images employed in the play still open new horizons of interpretation. In this context, the paper attempts to read the device of imagery as a dramatic and textual device and decipher its different meanings as far as the question of human identity is concerned. Imagery and its role in determining Man’s definition will be studied from the psychoanalytical, poststructuralist and postmodernist perspectives.
Psychoanalytical, poststructuralist and postmodernist theories share the common feature of escaping the linguistic sign and opening the possibility of dealing with a reality unmediated by language. These theories offer a solid background to revisit the classical definition of Man, as suggested by classical theories of the Enlightenment and rationalism, providing new possibilities to go beyond the linguistic determinants of meaning. Drawing from notions suggested by Sigmund Freud, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari and Jean François Lyotard, the paper proposes an exploration of imagery in The Iceman Cometh towards a redefined concept of human identity that blurs boundaries between the human and the non-human.