In what ways do the Pollitts reveal the limiting, or even deleterious, qualities of wealth? How does money fail them or harm them in a crucial way?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Wealth is the major cause of conflict in Tennessee Williams's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Certainly, the strife between Maggie and Gooper and his family has as its foundation the issue of inheritance. She urges her husband Brick do his conjugal duty and give her a baby so that Big Daddy will be inclined to give Brick a substantial inheritance. For, Gooper and his wife are mass producing in the hopes that Big Daddy will turn the estate over to them, an action that would leave Brick and Maggie dependent upon the generosity of relatives. In Act One, Maggie tells Brick that if he continues to drink, he will be sent to a sanitarium--

Then Brother Man could get a-hold of the purse strings and dole out remittances to us, maybe get power-of-attorney and sign checks for us and cut off our credit wherever, whenever he wanted!...How'd you like that, Baby?--Well, you've been doin' just about ev'rything in your power to bring it about, you've just been doin' ev'rything you can think of to aid and abet them in this scheme of theirs!

Maggie the Cat is a fighter, but she finds it difficult, nevertheless, to be happy because by her own admission, she is "consumed with envy and eaten up with longing" for the security that Big Daddy's wealth can bring her and Brick.

In their greedy desire for the estate, Gooper and Mae focus upon materialism as their goal. Mae has children in the effort to ingratiate herself with Big Daddy, who in truth finds her repulsive. Likewise, Gooper disgusts him, too, as he fails at pleasing his father and sires children in the hopes of ingratiating himself when he should be more genuine and caring instead of conspiring with his wife and vying against Brick in an immature fashion as though they are yet boys. For instance, when his mother asks Brick to get rid of his drink before they eat, Brick gulps it down and Gooper says, "Look at Brick put it down!" ridiculing him so as to gain favor for himself rather than demonstrating filial love. 

For Big Daddy, his financial success has distracted him from what is truly valuable in life, his family. Ida Pollitt has always loved him, but he ignores her, boasting hollowly when he is told by his doctor that he just has a spastic colon that he will drape a girl in mink and "hump her from hell to breakfast" rather than celebrating life with his family. Certainly, his wife Ida is, like Maggie, very lonely. As Maggie tells Brick, "Living with someone you love can be lonelier--than living entirely alone!" 

There is no doubt that the main divisions in the family are the result of the preoccupation with wealth and materialism because they are the cause of envy and "mendacity."

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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

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