Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

by Tennessee Williams

Start Free Trial

Why does Brick sexually refuse his wife in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In his essay, "Brick Politt as Homo Ludens:  'Three Players of a Summer Game' and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," Charles E. May likens the characterization of Brick in Williams's play to that of the same character in the short story on which the play is based, stating,

The basic tension between ideal and frozen art work and the unbearable "hot tin roof of reality" is the tension of...the play.

Brick Politt plays the ideal game of cool withdrawal.  In fact, his drunken attempt to jump the hurdles is symbolic of his failure to attain the withdrawal Brick desires as a response to his unbearable world of reality.  Clearly, too, his wife Maggie represents the flesh and reality from which Brick hopes to escape into his artistic detachment in the games of football played for their idealistic purity.  For, it is not so much the fact that Maggie has gone to bed with his friend Skipper, as it is that she has spoiled the "pure" relationship of Brick and Skipper that Brick has imagined as his objective correlative of his existential dread.

It is only Maggie who realizes Brick's true condition, his "game of detachment" that he uses to deal with his self-disgust and metaphysical dread.  She suggests that his drinking to hear the "click" of escape from flesh into "art" is not real.  For, unless this art is embodied in the flesh it cannot be an objectification of his existential angst.  Maggie tells Brick,

" has got to be allowed to continue even after the dream of life is--all--over....Maggie the cat is--alive....I'm alive, alive!

But, Brick harbors too much resentment of Maggie for Skipper's death and the death of his idealistic aspirations with his friend.  In his affection for Skipper, however, Brick is ambivalent as he is with Maggie.  Renowned critic Harold Bloom contends that Brick's narcissism is central to the play, and it is his auto-eroticism that most causes this sexual ambivalence with both Skipper and Maggie, his wife. Maggie also represents what critic May terms the "incongruity of raw existential reality," a reality that Brick wishes to withdraw from in his impassivity and disbelief in real love as an answer to his dilemma.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team