Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

by Tennessee Williams

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Explain the relationship between Brick and Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

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Brick and Maggie's marriage is, to put it bluntly, unhappy and strained. Brick is contemptuous of Maggie, trying his best to ignore her whenever they are alone. He declines any sexual interactions with her as well, which is a great source of humiliation and pain for Maggie since she wants to have a child. Maggie wants the relationship to work: she is stubborn, a trait that comes from a hard upbringing (one she is terrified of returning to), and of an optimistic nature, and she believes she can eventually make Brick love her back in spite of their troubled past with Brick's best friend Skipper.

Brick's hatred of Maggie stems from her part in Skipper's death. He and Skipper were so close that Maggie believed there was something more between them, an allegation that was true on Skipper's part and might be true on Brick's. Skipper wanted to prove his manhood by bedding Maggie, but he was unable to complete the act with her, making him realize how he truly felt about Brick. After a confession to Brick, he was rejected and then killed himself. Brick has become resentful and dependent on alcohol ever since.

While the play never spells out whether Brick is gay, bisexual, or otherwise, it is clear he is not in love with Maggie and placed more importance on his relationship with Skipper. Skipper remains between the two of them, haunting their marriage bed and making the union fruitless until the two finally face the problem head-on.

By the end of the play, the marriage is not repaired, but there is some hope for a better future for Maggie, at least. Maggie's best bet for securing a place in the Pollitt family is to have a child. She plans on having Brick make love to her by withholding alcohol from him until he obeys her wishes. The ending does not promise much in the way of marital happiness for either of them, though at the very least, Maggie will not have to slide back into poverty, and her child might represent a better future for the miserable Pollitt family.

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In Tennessee Williams’s play, Brick and Margaret "Maggie" Pollitt are a married couple; both are white and in their twenties. While Brick’s family is wealthy, Maggie grew up relatively poor and adjusting to his family has been challenging. The tension in the play explores the couple’s relationship but also derives from an overall atmosphere of secrecy and deception.

Maggie’s position as an outsider is made especially difficult by Brick's father and brother. Brick’s father, whom everyone calls Big Daddy, is a domineering patriarch and local political boss; he favors Brick’s brother, Gooper. Both are outspoken in their disapproval of Brick, including his choice of wife, which creates considerable tension between Brick and Maggie. This censure ostensibly centers on Brick having thrown his life away and not lived up to his earlier potential as a football star. Brick is an alcoholic whose family wealth shields him from having to earn a living or seek treatment for his illness.

When Brick and Maggie married, she did not know that he is possibly gay or bisexual. The ambiguity of his sexual identity and practices, conveyed by the use of euphemisms, is a constant throughout the play. Williams is as open as was possible in 1950s theater but does not definitely state if Brick and Skipper were lovers.

Maggie reacted vengefully to her husband’s emotional affair or possible physical affair. She had an affair with Skipper, who subsequently suffered a mental and emotional breakdown, and then took his own life. Brick’s grief over the death of his beloved, which he cannot openly express, exacerbated his drinking. Maggie tries to cover up the fact that they do not have a sexual relationship by claiming to be pregnant. Both are unwilling or unable to come to terms with the fundamental dishonesty in their marriage. They are not only in a damaging, codependent relationship but also are dependent on his family.

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Maggie and Brick have a strained relationship at best, and it’s important to understand that Maggie admits to being the “cat on a hot tin roof” from the outset. Why? She is “catty” in that she is “consumed with envy and eaten up with longing.” These ideas override their entire relationship.

One person in particular has come between Maggie and Brick: Skipper. Skipper was a football teammate of Brick’s, and the two have a questionable relationship in the form of a very intimate friendship. Maggie, being Brick’s wife, has always been threatened by Skipper. In one of her worst “catty” moves, Maggie first tries to seduce Skipper and then convinces Skipper that he is gay. Skipper then calls Brick in order to profess his love for him. When Brick refuses to accept Skipper’s forced realization, Skipper kills himself. This suicide, of course, can be indirectly blamed on Maggie. From this point on, Brick despises Maggie. He punishes her by refusing to have sex and by drinking as a form of escape.  In regards to drinking, Brick says the following:

It's like a switch, clickin' off in my head. Turns the hot light off and the cool one on, and all of a sudden there's peace.

There is something else really important that comes between Maggie and Brick: money. Although Maggie is, of course, interested in her husband’s affections, she constantly chooses to woo her husband’s estate over his love. There is a grand Pollitt estate for which all of the family members are vying. Some of Maggie’s desire for money can be blamed on her upbringing in poverty. She truly married “up” into a wealthy Southern family. Further, two of Brick’s other siblings have many children and are in the running for the largest portion of the estate. To counteract this, Maggie tries to at least have sex with her husband by withholding booze until he does so.

In conclusion, the reader can see that both money and Skipper have come between Maggie and Brick to form quite a strained relationship. It is obvious throughout the play that, even if the marital relationship wasn’t strained, Maggie still prefers the money over anything else.  This sad truth is reflected here:

What is the victory of a cat on a hot tin roof?—I wish I knew... Just staying on it, I guess, as long as she can.

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