Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Margaret (Maggie) Pollitt
Margaret (Maggie) Pollitt, a young woman from a poor background married into a wealthy Southern family. Maggie’s hard life has given her the strength and determination to do whatever she must to survive. When she felt threatened by the closeness between her husband, Brick, and his friend Skipper, she accused Skipper of being in love with Brick, then tried to seduce Skipper, leading to Skipper’s suicide and Maggie’s estrangement from Brick. Because of Brick’s alcoholism and irresponsibility, as well as the fact that they have no children, Maggie fears that the Pollitt estate will go to Brick’s brother Gooper and his wife Mae, leaving Maggie and Brick at the financial mercy of their relatives. To prevent this, Maggie announces that she is pregnant, then blackmails Brick into sleeping with her by withholding liquor from him.
Brick Pollitt, a young alcoholic former football player. Brick is tormented by guilt over the death of his former teammate and best friend, Skipper. Brick and Skipper shared an intimate and ambiguous relationship. When an emotionally distraught Skipper called Brick to confess his love for him, Brick hung up on Skipper, precipitating his suicide. Brick hates Maggie because she tried to seduce Skipper in an effort to come between the men. Brick is disgusted with the hypocrisy, lies, secrecy, and plotting he sees going on around him in the family. Having...
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Big Daddy Pollitt
Big Daddy is the center of attention in the Pollitt family, not only because he holds the position of patriarch but because he is dying and his property is up for grabs. Big Daddy has risen from the position of plantation overseer to the owner of the plantation. He thinks he has a spastic colon, "made spastic by disgust'' by "all the lies and liars ... and hypocrisy" that surround him. When Big Mama protests that she has loved Big Daddy, in spite of his "hate and hardness'' for forty years, he responds with the exact words that Brick speaks to Maggie, "Wouldn't it be funny if that was true."
Big Daddy has been his own man for so long that he has not been "infected by [the] ideas of other people." Thus, remarkable for the era in which the play takes place, Big Daddy does not judge Brick's relationship with Skipper as inappropriate. Unfortunately his acceptance comes too late for Brick, who continues to keep himself emotionally removed from everyone around him. Big Daddy genuinely loves Brick, offering his son the kind of unconditional love for which Brick respects his father. It is this unbounded trust for each other in a world of "mendacity" that ties the two men together and which not one other character in the play possesses or comprehends. Big Daddy's tragedy is not that he must die but that he dies thinking that Bnck, just like all of the others, was going to lie about his cancer too.
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Brick has made a virtue of indifference, first as a football star admired from afar by family and friends, then as a dreamy alcoholic, hiding the truth of his complicity in his best friend's death behind a mask of indifference. Brick punishes himself and his wife, Maggie, whom he would rather have take the blame for Skipper's descent into drugs and alcohol. Brick imposes two punishments on himself and on his wife. One is drinking until he feels the "click'' releasing him into the welcome oblivion of intoxication; he uses alcohol as a means of escape. The other is sexual abstinence.
Bnck knows that his feelings for Skipper were "pure an' true," and he claims disdain for a world that would have called him and Skipper "fairies." But the real source of his guilt lies instead in remembering the night that Skipper called him, drunk, to confess, having been tricked by Maggie into believing himself a homosexual. Brick hung up on him. It was Brick's own rejection that caused Skipper's death, not an uncomprehending world. Brick fails to recognize his guilt until his father forces him to face it. Big Daddy loves Brick and loves the truth too. But Bnck tragically misunderstands his father's motives and once more retaliates outward instead of accepting the truth. According to Williams, Brick suffers from "moral paralysis'': he cannot rise from the morass of his "spiritual disrepair."
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Sincere, foolish, fat, always laughing "like hell at herself," Big Mama's idea of fun (pulling the Reverend Tooker onto her lap when he extends his hand to help her up from the sofa) is not consistent with the kind of society to which Mae and Maggie aspire. Big Mama laughs the loudest at her husband's insults about her "fat old body'' and general incompetence, but she often has to "pick up or fuss with something to cover the hurt the loud laugh doesn't quite cover." She only lamely chastises Brick for drinking and expresses genuine concern for Maggie's childless plight.
Ida is ineffective at bringing her family around to her values of Christian love and forgiveness, loving and forgiving them so absolutely that they ignore her existence. Her laughter at her own expense, however, masks a tender and sincere soul, one that emerges poignantly when she learns that Big Daddy will die of cancer after all. In her genuine grief she gains a new dignity that she retains throughout the rest of the play.
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Maggie is a pretty southern woman who comes from a humble family and sees a slim but promising hope of getting "something out of what Big Daddy leaves." She has a melodic southern drawl, an indulgent easy tolerance of her husband Brick's alcoholic distance but also a self-confessed "hard'' edge, brought about by her desperate situation. It is quite clear which holds the most importance to her between her love for Brick and her desire for a healthy portion of the Pollitt estate: she prefers the money, although she hungers for her husband's attentions as well.
Maggie calls herself a "cat on a hot tin roof" alluding to her precarious position with Brick, who will not sleep with her, and with her brother- and sister-in-law, who have the better claim on the Pollitt estate because of their brood of five "no-neck monster" children. Maggie, with the tenacity of an alley cat, intends to convince Brick to have sex with her to keep them in the running. The bow-and-arrow "Diana trophy" she won in an archery contest at Ole Miss is emblematic of her relationship with Brick and his family—she is the hunter. On stage Maggie is an elegant beauty, alternating between unabashed coquetry and vicious reproach. She is "catty" because, as she puts it, she's "consumed with envy and eaten up with longing."
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Doc Baugh's purpose in the play is to authenticate the fact that Big Daddy, does, indeed, have terminal cancer and not a "spastic colon" as Big Daddy has been led to believe. By ignoring the comments around him, Doc Baugh manages to stay out of the family's destructive squabbling; he simply explains the medical reality and leaves a hypodermic package of morphine to relieve Big Daddy's more severe pain when it inevitably comes.
See lda Pollitt
See Gooper Pollitt
See Doctor Baugh
Lacey is the Pollitts' good-natured black servant. Lacey and Sookey cackle at the family jokes and know enough to wait until after Big Daddy's fit of pique over Big Mama's "horsin" around to bring in the birthday cake and champagne.
Maggie the Cat
See Maggie Pollitt
Dixie is one of Mae's "brood'' of children who run wild through the house and yard when not on display or performing vaudevillian songs as part of their parent's relentless drive to gain Big Daddy's attention and appreciation. Naturally, all of their antics fail to please. Dixie has overheard her parents discuss Maggie's failure to produce a child, and she taunts her aunt with this piece of information when Maggie...
(The entire section is 573 words.)