Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof the cat is Maggie Pollitt, married to Brick, the favorite son of a wealthy plantation owner, Big Daddy, and the hot tin roof is the desperate measure she takes to regain her husband’s sexual interest and to lay claim to her husband’s family fortune. Opposing her are Gooper Pollitt, Brick’s brother, and Gooper’s family, consisting of his pregnant wife and their five children (Williams’s famous “no-neck monsters”). Finally there is Big Mama, whose current status with her husband is much like Maggie’s with Brick.
The estrangement between the silently suffering Brick and his loquacious father is the result of Brick’s dropping out of professional football and sportscasting and his turning to alcohol. Pained by the suicide of his best friend, Skipper, Brick says he must drink until he hears a “click” in his head, a guarantor of relief from his pain. Big Daddy’s inability to understand Brick is fueled by rumors that Brick and Skipper’s closeness was homosexual in nature. The strain between Maggie and Brick is caused by Maggie’s having gone to Skipper to confront him with his possible homosexuality. Shortly thereafter, Skipper committed suicide. Brick’s loss of Skipper is intensified by Maggie’s having made something dirty of what he said was a pure love.
Contrasting strongly with Brick, Gooper is successful both as a lawyer and as a prolific breeder of children. Gooper’s family,...
(The entire section is 936 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
The Pollitt family assembles to celebrate Big Daddy’s sixty-fifth birthday. While Brick showers, Maggie describes the birthday dinner, telling how badly Gooper’s five children behaved and how their mother, Mae, used them to impress Big Daddy. Brick comes out of the bathroom on crutches, having broken his ankle jumping hurdles.
Maggie informs Brick that a medical report arrived that day with the news that Big Daddy is dying of cancer. She also explains that Mae and Gooper want to send Brick to a hospital for alcoholics so that they can control Big Daddy’s money. Maggie believes, however, that Big Daddy dislikes Gooper and his family and that he has a “lech” for her.
Maggie admits that she has become “catty” because Brick refuses to sleep with her and she is lonely. She does, however, intend to win back his love. After hinting that Brick’s problems stem from someone named Skipper, she asks Brick to drink less. He replies that he needs to drink until he hears a “click” in his head that gives him peace. Maggie complains that her current situation makes her as tense as “a cat on a hot tin roof.”
Big Mama enters to say how happy she is; she was told that Big Daddy has a spastic colon, not cancer. Brick retreats to the bathroom as she enters. After asking about Brick’s drinking, Big Mama tells Maggie that sexual problems must be causing their marital troubles and childlessness.
When Big Mama leaves,...
(The entire section is 968 words.)
Act I Summary
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof takes place entirely in the bed-sitting room of the Pollitt plantation home in the Mississippi Delta. The plantation once belonged to a pair of bachelors, and it still shows evidence of their taste for "the Victorian with a touch of the Far East." Big Daddy had once worked for them as an overseer, now he owns the plantation and most of the land for miles around, having spent his life building it into a dynastic empire, "twenty-eight thousand acres of the richest land this side of the valley Nile." It is Big Daddy Pollitt's sixty-fifth birthday, and he is in an especially celebratory mood because he has just received the results of exploratory surgery: the pains in his stomach are not due to cancer as he had feared for three years but are merely the pangs of a spastic colon. However, Big Daddy and his wife, Big Mama (Ida Pollitt) have not been told the truth. The rest of the family knows that he does indeed have terminal cancer.
The action takes place in the upstairs bed-sitting room because Big Daddy's younger and favorite son, Brick, broke his ankle the night before while attempting to jump hurdles on the high school athletic track following a drinking bout.
Brick and his wife Maggie are getting ready for Big Daddy's birthday party when the first act opens. It becomes clear that Maggie resents the presence downstairs of her brother- and sister-in-law's brood of five "no-neck monsters" whose very existence are a...
(The entire section is 481 words.)
Act II Summary
Act II begins where Act I left off, with the arrival of Big Daddy, Reverend Tooker, Gooper, and Mae. Big Daddy expresses his lack of enthusiasm for the celebration in a single word, "Crap!" In walks the overweight Big Mama, who good-naturedly tolerates jokes at her expense. Gooper and Mae ostentatiously draw attention to Brick's drinking, which Brick affably ignores. None of the insincere birthday congratulations affect Big Daddy, but Big Mama bursts into sentimental tears—in her relief that Big Daddy does not have cancer. Big Daddy is relieved too but puts his positive feelings into interrogating Brick about the broken ankle, demanding to know if he broke it "layin' a woman."
Eventually the guests depart, leaving Big Daddy and Brick alone to talk. Brick would rather just drink until he feels the "click" that puts him into oblivion. But Big Daddy has a new lease on life, and he wants to have a frank talk with bis beloved son. Big Daddy's confessions of sexual appetite and ease with a world of mendacity (lies and untruths) only disgust Brick, who tries to end the conversation. Big Daddy pursues the issue that he thinks may be bothering Brick, attempting to reassure his son that he will accept whatever kind of relationship Brick had with Skipper. But Brick is too defensive about the issue to appreciate his father's generosity.
Big Daddy then shocks Brick by announcing that it was Brick's rejection of Skipper that killed him (Skipper had called...
(The entire section is 377 words.)
Act III Summary
[There are at least three published versions of Act III. The one most often produced is the second version, which Williams revised at the request of producer/director Elia Kazan, who insisted that Big Daddy was too important a character to drop after the second act. The following summarizes Williams's original version. Williams defended it in the preface to the Broadway version as being truer to the character of Brick, who, Williams said, would have been unable to show the kind of dramatic progression that Kazan demanded for the Broadway production.]
Again, no time elapses following the previous act. Everyone is asking where Big Daddy has gone, and Big Mama presumes he has gone to bed. After some prattling about the old man's resilience and Brick's drinking, the younger people get down to the important business at hand: Gooper, Mae, and Maggie want to tell Big Mama the truth about Big Daddy's cancer and then elicit her support in their competing plans to take over the plantation. The tension between Gooper and Mae on one hand and Maggie on the other comes to verbal blows as each sarcastically attempts to reveal the grasping designs of the other. Throughout the scene Brick blandly serves himself drinks and looks longingly out at the cool, detached moon.
Big Mama desperately appeals to Brick, saying that if he would only have a child, Big Daddy would happily leave the plantation to him. Brick fails to respond, but Maggie puts herself on...
(The entire section is 320 words.)