Study Guide

Cold Storage

by Ronald Ribman

Cold Storage Themes

Themes and Meanings (Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Cold Storage is a philosophical play that combines the most traditional of concerns with the most existential of contexts. At the play’s core is the perennial philosophical question: What is the good life? Its context is a contemporary metaphor for human beings’ existential condition: the slow death of survivors in a cancer ward.

The cancer ward is a microcosm, and the vacuous rituals of modern life are represented by the hospital routine. There are many rules and procedures, most of them intended to make the patients docile and helpless. “It’s just a hospital regulation to wheel you around from place to place so you can get used to being a cripple,” Parmigian explains. Reminders of debilitation abound. The surgical supply store across the street, where body parts are stored “like pieces of cordwood,” resembles some grotesque plastic concentration camp. The busy schedule of the inmates is a meaningless ritual; it consists of meals and of moving one’s wheelchair from one location to another. The remaining patients are signified by a lonely bridge player in the card room, the survivor of a shipwreck long ago, who waits endlessly for three other patients able and willing to sit up and play the game. Day-to-day life is a schedule of useless and humiliating medical procedures. In the struggle with the staff, one’s only protection from total neglect is to participate in everything and to be interesting: “Make yourself interesting the night before they make up the schedule. Make sure they put you down on the list.”

The system of which the hospital is a part is monolithic, omnipresent, and beyond...

(The entire section is 671 words.)