How did the play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and its adaptation tackle controversial themes like those listed below in the historical context of 1955?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that a distinguishing trait of Williams' work is its emotional complexity.  Williams weaves dramas where a subjective tapestry is woven with affect with threads that bisect and intersect one another.  It is difficult to see where one ends and another begins in this mass of emotional dynamics.  In this light, I think that the play brought about some very potent emotional forces in its drama.  The complexity of what constitutes truth, independence, emotional connection, as well as how husbands and wives and children and parents interact with one another all proved to be a direct challenge to the formulaic and simplistic formula of the 1950s.  At a time when "Father Knows Best" and when there was structure, order, and predictability to how families operate, Williams presents a family dynamic that defies all of this.

Some of this comes from Williams own experience.  In contrast to the setting of the 1950s, Williams draws on his own background with a father who could not communicate with him, presumably because of his son's homosexuality, his hysterical mother, and the abandonment of his sister. From this background, Williams creates characters and dramas that defy the convention and supposed comfort of the 1950s.  In doing so, Williams and the drama embody the idea of seeking to bring out a level of truth in the world of mendacity that the historical context sought to bring out in all individuals.  While the play could not fully embrace in a demonstrative manner, it is apparent that homosexuality is present.  One can debate if Brick, himself, is gay, but his reaction and his inability to accept Skipper's love for him is something that is reflective of the time period.  Through Brick's brooding about this, and what Williams himself would call "moral paralysis" and his "spiritual despair," Wiliams is bringing light to an aspect of the 1950s that was not discussed at the time.  The intimation of homosexuality was enough to begin a discussion that was about 20 years ahead of its time, proof of Williams' own keen insight into the issue.  It is in this light that the drama was able to discuss other social elements such as women's roles in marriages and the validation of their voice.  Just as the "old South" dies in the drama, the tradition bound way of the 1950s also end up giving way to the change in the following decades.  While Williams' work is not singuarly responsible for this, it certainly is a starting point for such change.  In this light, Williams' work was able to be both of its context, in that it intimated at what might lie beneath the surface, and transcended it, in its resonance for later on down the dialectical path.

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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

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