In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams, how does the social context of the time period affect the story?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that one distinct way in which the social context impacts the narrative is through its characterizations.  The culture of the 1950s holds a significant impact on the way characters act and how they are developed. This affects the development of the story. One example of this would be with Brick and the issue of homosexuality. The relationship that Brick shared with Skipper along with the duplicity and lies that had to accompany it represents how the social context of the 1950s impacts this aspect of the story. Brick and Skipper cannot be socially honest about their feelings because the social context of the time period precludes such openness. Part of Brick's hatred of hypocrisy and deception is reflective of how the social context of the time period precludes him from being honest with himself about who he is and what he feels.

This same social context impacts Maggie and how she seeks to hold things together in the face of fragmentation. Maggie's feelings of being like a "cat on a hot tin roof" is reflective of the social context of women in the 1950s.  Domesticity was the predominant element in a woman's identity. Women's roles were largely defined through pleasing men and ensuring that they could be pregnant and provide the feel of domesticity. Maggie's feelings of anxiousness are rooted in having to comply with a social order that dictates one thing, while her reality dictates another. Maggie understands that the only way to acquiesce to such tension is through deception, the type that can only take place between husband and wife and away from a prying set of external eyes. It is in this regard where the social context impacts the development of the story.


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