Essays and Criticism
In Search of Blessings
Many early critics argued that the central conflict of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is Brick's struggle with homosexuality—his reluctance to either admit his own homosexual tendencies or to understand those of his friend, Skipper. These critics saw Maggie's desire for a child as an attempt to counterbalance Brick's ambivalence and win him back to his "true" sexual nature. Yet the play is not explicit in explaining his desires or true motivations. Walter Kerr, writing in the New York Herald Tribune, referred to Brick's "private wounds and secret drives" as "a secret half-told" about which Williams is less than candid. Williams defended himself against this accusation by asserting that "The bird that I hope to catch in the net of this play is not the solution of one man's problem. I'm trying to catch the true quality of experience in a group of people, that...interplay of live human beings in the thundercloud of a common crisis." In other words, Williams denied that homosexuality per se was the central issue of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Whether or not homosexuality is central, Brick, who appears in every scene of the play, is clearly a pivotal character.
Benjamin Nelson, in his book Tennessee Williams: The Man and His Work, argued that the play was not at all about Brick's sexuality but about his idealism and "tragic disillusionment." Brick tells Big Daddy that he drinks out of "disgust" with "mendacity." New Republic critic...
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Willams's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is, among other related themes, clearly a play about the sexual ambivalence of males toward females. Even the minor characters for whom little or no conflict is presented, are to various degrees or in various ways epicene in nature; the preacher humorously so; the two former owners of the plantation (while they lived) openly and complacently so; and Brick's older brother and foil, shielded by his maternalistic wife's appalling (to Maggie at least) fertility, unconsciously so. (Witness how his and his wife's laments over Big Mamma's lack of affection for him are bluntly explained by the mother: "Gooper never liked Daddy.") Add to this revelation the at least rough similarity between Big Mamma's and Mae's deficient emotional and intellectual development, and Gooper, for what it matters, can be seen as a typically Oedipal son in an obliviously blissful marriage to a woman redolent of his mother if possibly more affectionate.
But there is far more substantial motivation in the play for Big Daddy's preference for Brick as favorite son and heir-apparent than Gooper's repressed hostility for the father, revealed by his transparent hypocrisy and insensitive greed. The reason for Big Daddy's persistent affection for Brick and his reluctance to disinherit him in spite of Brick's childless state and his increasingly irresponsible alcoholism lies in the subtle sexual affinities the father shares with his troubled son.
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Review of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was heralded by some as the play in which homosexuality was at last to be presented without evasion. But the miracle has still not happened.
The cat of the title is the heroine, the roof her husband; he would like her to jump off, that is, find a lover. Driven by passions he neither understands nor controls, he takes to drink and envies the moon; the hot cat and the cool moon being the two chief symbols and points of reference in the play. The boy says he has taken to drink because "mendacity is the system we live in." His father, however, explains that this is an evasion: the real reason is that he is running away from homosexuality. At this point, the author abruptly changes the subject to the father's mortal illness, and he never really gets back to it. One does not of course demand that he"cure'' the boy, only that he present him: he should tell the audience, even if he does not tell the boy himself, whether a "cure" is possible, and, if not, whether homosexuality is something this individual can accept as the truth about himself. At present, one can only agree with the father that the story is fatally incomplete.
If some things in Mr. Williams' story are too vaguely defined, others are defined in a manner far too summary and definite. The characters, for example, are pushed around by an obsessively and mechanically sexual interpretation of life. "How good is he (or she) in bed?" is what everyone asks of...
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