What is the importance of the use of long stage directions in Williams Cat on a Hot Tin Roof?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Williams uses detailed stage instructions in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to illuminate characters' emotional dynamics.

Williams's play is a study in the way human beings interact with one another. He shows a world where barriers to emotional connection exist in different ways.  Such difficulties are essential to the play's development, and the use of stage directions enhance this.  For example, in the play's opening, Maggie is ready to rail about how Brick's family wants to deny him his inheritance. However, Williams includes stage directions which show that "She freezes momentarily before her next remark. Her voice drops as if it were somehow a personally embarrassing admission."   Another example of an extensive stage direction is when Maggie is talking and Brick responds through body language:  "During the above swift flood of words, Brick has reclined with contrapuntal leisure on the snowy surface of the bed and has rolled over carefully on his side or belly."  In these settings, Williams could have opted for shorter stage directions such as "Maggie interrupts herself" or "Brick turns over on the bed."  However, in adding detailed stage directions, Williams seizes the opportunity to emotionally develop his characters.  When Maggie "freezes," it reflects an aspect of her marriage, reflected through Brick taking sanctuary "on the snowy surface of the bed."  

The world in which the characters live denies emotional development. Through Big Daddy's "mendacity" or through a clash of worlds, such as a setting described as "Victorian with a touch of the Far East," the characters experience difficulty with full emotional expression.  Big Daddy finds that his life is filled with lies and deceit, a painful "vacuum" where truth is nowhere to be found.  Maggie cannot fully communicate with her husband, and is unable to reach him.  Brick is unable to fully connect with anything except tormented memories, confusion in the present, and alcohol.  The main characters live in a world of emotional struggle.  Williams uses his lengthy directions as a way to further communicate the disjointed nature of this world.

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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

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