How is the theme of disease and death shown throughout Act 1?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The presence of disease and death can be seen throughout Act I.  The most demonstrative way that this is evident would be with Big Daddy, himself.  There is sickness evident, even though he is happy with what he perceives to be a mild case of a spastic colon.  His celebratory demeanor is undercut by everyone around him knowing that he is dying from internal cancer.  The notion of dying from the inside out is something that is applicable to so much in Act I.  The plantation that Big Daddy built and will pass on is dying from the inside out in much the same way.  Its style and decor of "Far East meets Victorian" represents the original owners.  Those who take over will not be able to continue such a design, and thus it will slowly die out from within. 

The notion of disease and death resulting in a slow decay is also seen in Brick and Maggie. The fact that Maggie has not given birth, set in stark contrast to her brother and sister- in- law along with their "no neck monsters" helps to accentuate this.  Maggie not having a child is a part of this decaying element, as if something is dying inside her. Namely, the ability to carry a child.  Of course, this is reflective a larger issue. The disease of lovelessness  has infected the relationship between Brick and Maggie.  The unresolved nature of Brick's feelings towards Skipper and his intensely unresolved feelings towards Maggie, and life, itself, are reflections of how disease and death are rotting their marriage away from the inside.  This death, like Big Daddy's, is not quick and painless.  Rather, it is a slow and gutting death, ensuring that the only thing everyone knows is its presence in their lives.

Read the study guide:
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

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