Tennessee Williams Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Characters • Brick- Maggie’s husband. Has become an alcoholic after his best friend, and rumored gay lover, has died. Despises his wife for sleeping with Skipper. He is also Big Daddy and Big Mamma’s favorite son. • Maggie- Brick’s wife who is on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Holds it together in front of the family. His refusal of her love, and his general refusal of her makes her bitter, nervous and cold. She represents the “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” of the play. She is desperately lonely and hanging on for as long as she can. • Big Daddy- Brick’s father. A manly man who works hard, but has been afflicted by cancer. He now depends on everyone to take care of him. The family lies to him, telling him that he only has a spastic colon so he can live happily until he dies. He finds out about the lie, and therefore gets angry with everyone. He favors Brick over his first son Gooper, and wants to leave his plantation to Brick, causing controversy and bitterness between the brothers and their wives. • Big Mamma- Brick’s mother and Big Daddy’s wife. A big fat woman, who loves to talk and nag. She is the the caregiver of the home and family and has a lot o love. She favors Brick so much that she calls him her “only son” even in front of Gooper. She is a strong character, yet in denial of Big Daddy’s impending death and Brick’s alcoholism and disgust toward Maggie.
Characters • Gooper- Big Daddy and Mamma’s first son as well as Mae’s husband. He is a successful lawyer mainly interested in inheriting Big Daddy’s plantation. He is the least favorite son and isn’t destined to inherit the estate even though he is the first born son. He is bitter towards Brick due to Big Daddy and Big Mamma’s fondness for him. • Mae- Gooper’s wife. Like Gooper, is only really interested in inheriting Big Daddy’s estate when he dies. She is called a “monster” of fertility due to the fact that she and Gooper have 5 children together and a 6th on the way. Tries to seem like the perfect wife and mother to show that her and Gooper “deserve” to inherit the plantation. • Mae and Gooper’s children- They are referred to “no-necked monsters” throughout the play. They repeatedly interrupt thoughts in the play as to represent bad behavior. They only behave when Mae instructs them, making it hard to make her seem like a perfect mother and wife. • Reverend Tooker- The family’s priest. He makes few appearances even though he is present at Big Daddy’s party. He is somewhat opinionated and hypocritical about the family, but does so in a kind, inoffensive manner. • Doctor Baugh- Big Daddy’s doctor. He is the one who tells Big Mamma the true severity of Big Daddy’s condition.
Summary • Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is in the form of a play. It’s about two brothers fighting for their father’s estate after he passes away. Big Daddy was said to have been dying of cancer, but then the doctor lied to him and Big Mama, telling them that he only has a spastic colon. His children know the truth of his disease, though. Big Daddy has two sons, Brick and Gooper. Gooper and his wife Mae seem desperate for the estate, always putting Brick and his wife Maggie down and acting as if Big Daddy is already dead. They also have many children that most of the family finds annoying. Brick, on the other hand, doesn’t really care if he and Maggie get the estate. He’s a huge alcoholic and doesn’t really love Maggie anymore. He won’t sleep with her and encourages her to cheat on him. He is even accused of being homosexual with his late friend, Skipper. However, Maggie still loves Brick and won’t leave him. Living like this has made her as mad as a “cat on a hot tin roof”. Overall, Big Daddy takes more of a liking to Brick than Gooper. After revealing the truth of Big Daddy’s cancer to Big Mama, Gooper and Mae show how desperate they are by giving her a rough draft of a will. Big Mama is disgusted and just wants Brick to give Big Daddy his first real grandchild before he dies. Maggie lies by saying that she’s already pregnant. In the end, to make her lie a reality, Maggie forces Brick to sleep with her and it is assumed that they receive the estate.
Themes and Symbols • Lies: • * Brick possibly being homosexual • o Was thought that he was gay with his friend Skipper, but at the end Big Mama wants Brick and Maggie to have a child and stop his drinking • - Brick loved Skipper, whether homosexual or not, he lost the only “true” love he has ever had. Now he is lost in a daze induced by alcohol. Doesn’t want to face people, especially those who love him. * Big Daddy’s illness o Said to be just a spastic colon to avoid upsetting Big Mama and Big Daddy o Eventually had to be revealed * Maggie being pregnant o Lies to make Big Daddy happy before he dies (thinks he’s going to get a true grandchild) o Tries to make it a reality by taking away Brick’s alcohol and making him sleep with her * Big Mamma * Lies to herself for a false reality. She is convinced that everyone is lying to her when they reveal that Big Daddy is actually dying. * She convinces herself that Brick loves Maggie and that they will have a family, that Brick will stop drinking and the plantation will be left to him, the “rightful” heir.
Themes and Symbols Cat on a Hot Tin Roof: * Maggie o Very lonely, desperate o Uncomfortable (like a cat on a hot tin roof would be) because she’s staying with a man who doesn’t love her Immortality: * Big Daddy o Big Daddy has unconditional love for Brick and sees his youth in him o Wants him to bear a child so that it will again be like Brick and himself o Once Big Daddy’s gone, Brick will still be there and then Brick will continue the family by hopefully having a son Spies: * People always listening in on their family members conversations * Usually always noticed and sometimes an offstage phone will ring when it’s happening * Mae and Gooper's plot for inheritance likely involves many “spies” in the family that focus on Maggie and Brick's struggle *Always rings in intimate conversations, almost as if no privacy.
Themes and Symbols Deception: • * Gooper and Mae o They stay at the Big Daddy house to “help” big daddy and to be with him when he dies, but all they are interested in is who will get the estate when Big Daddy dies. Gooper even has all the paperwork ready at the house. • Dependence • * Big Daddy • o He is a hard worker, the “man of the house”, yet now he is dependent on all the people who he is supposed to be “above.” Big Mamma is his wife, who is supposed to take care of all “homemaker” duties: caring for the children, housework, etc. Now she runs the plantation, therefore emasculating him. At one point he argues with Big Mamma, accusing her of trying to take over, but now that he is healthy (or so he thinks,) things are going to go back to normal. • o He is also Dependent on Mae and Gooper to help. We never really know exactly why he does not like Gooper, we only know that Big Daddy is more fond of Brick. He thinks Gooper is only interested in the estate, which is true.
Themes and Symbols • Dependence cont. • Brick • * After his drunken accident from trying to relive his athletic youth, he is injured and has to depend of Maggie, his wife. He no longer loves her and actually seems to despise her. She slept with his best friend, Skipper, shortly after Skipper killed himself and therefore blames her for Skipper’s death. In their argument at the beginning of the novel, when Maggie inquires about her leaving and being alone, he doesn’t care and seems to encourage it.
Social/Historical Relevance • Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was published in 1954 and first staged in 1955. This was an era of housewives, family values, and innocence before the controversial era of the '60's began. Some topics addressed in Cat – homosexuality, alcoholism, and a childless marriage - were extremely taboo in American culture. For example, the relationship between Brick and Skipper would never have been suspected of being anything more than friendship and normally would not be openly discussed. • It was standard for married couples to have two children – as displayed in the pop culture of shows like “Father Knows Best” and “Leave it to Beaver.” • Williams took a controversial approach by introducing alternative lifestyles before they were tolerated or acceptable. • In 1958, the script was adapted for a film version. Because of censorship, all references to homosexuality and all profanity was deleted or changed.
The Work as a Whole • Cat on a Hot Tin Roof explores sexuality, greed, illness, death, disappointment, deception, and marriage all within one evening and only a few rooms of Brick's home. • Despite the focus on Big Daddy's inheritance after his expected death of Cancer, the climax of the plot focuses not on money, but on the relationship of Big Daddy and Brick as Brick confesses his love for Skipper and reveals the true results of Big Daddy's medical tests. • Maggie “The Cat” is desperate not only for sex, but a relationship that is considered “normal”. This is nearly impossible with the emotionally void, alcoholic Brick, but their differences are resolved at the end of the novel as they plan to “make the lie true” by conceiving a child.