(Masterpieces of American Literature)

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof the cat is Maggie Pollitt, married to Brick, the favorite son of a wealthy plantation owner, Big Daddy, and the hot tin roof is the desperate measure she takes to regain her husband’s sexual interest and to lay claim to her husband’s family fortune. Opposing her are Gooper Pollitt, Brick’s brother, and Gooper’s family, consisting of his pregnant wife and their five children (Williams’s famous “no-neck monsters”). Finally there is Big Mama, whose current status with her husband is much like Maggie’s with Brick.

The estrangement between the silently suffering Brick and his loquacious father is the result of Brick’s dropping out of professional football and sportscasting and his turning to alcohol. Pained by the suicide of his best friend, Skipper, Brick says he must drink until he hears a “click” in his head, a guarantor of relief from his pain. Big Daddy’s inability to understand Brick is fueled by rumors that Brick and Skipper’s closeness was homosexual in nature. The strain between Maggie and Brick is caused by Maggie’s having gone to Skipper to confront him with his possible homosexuality. Shortly thereafter, Skipper committed suicide. Brick’s loss of Skipper is intensified by Maggie’s having made something dirty of what he said was a pure love.

Contrasting strongly with Brick, Gooper is successful both as a lawyer and as a prolific breeder of children. Gooper’s family, particularly his wife, resents Big Daddy’s favoritism regarding Brick and take advantage of every opportunity to change the situation. Thus the battle lines are drawn on what was to be a festive occasion, a celebration of Big Daddy’s sixty-fifth birthday. Maggie, playing on Big Daddy’s favoritism, lies about being pregnant and then attempts to seduce Brick into making her pregnant. In a climactic scene between Big Daddy and Brick, the latter drops a bombshell: the true prognosis of his father’s cancerous condition.

The play exists in several versions, the original having been altered by Elia Kazan for the premiere in New York in 1955. The original version was partly restored in 1974 and completely performed in 1990. In the three major productions, Barbara Bel Geddes, Elizabeth Ashley, and Kathleen Turner,...

(The entire section is 936 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The Pollitt family assembles to celebrate Big Daddy’s sixty-fifth birthday. While Brick showers, Maggie describes the birthday dinner, telling how badly Gooper’s five children behaved and how their mother, Mae, used them to impress Big Daddy. Brick comes out of the bathroom on crutches, having broken his ankle jumping hurdles.

Maggie informs Brick that a medical report arrived that day with the news that Big Daddy is dying of cancer. She also explains that Mae and Gooper want to send Brick to a hospital for alcoholics so that they can control Big Daddy’s money. Maggie believes, however, that Big Daddy dislikes Gooper and his family and that he has a “lech” for her.

Maggie admits that she has become “catty” because Brick refuses to sleep with her and she is lonely. She does, however, intend to win back his love. After hinting that Brick’s problems stem from someone named Skipper, she asks Brick to drink less. He replies that he needs to drink until he hears a “click” in his head that gives him peace. Maggie complains that her current situation makes her as tense as “a cat on a hot tin roof.”

Big Mama enters to say how happy she is; she was told that Big Daddy has a spastic colon, not cancer. Brick retreats to the bathroom as she enters. After asking about Brick’s drinking, Big Mama tells Maggie that sexual problems must be causing their marital troubles and childlessness.

When Big Mama leaves, Maggie again urges Brick to sleep with her; he suggests a divorce instead. Maggie returns to the subject of Big Daddy’s cancer, explaining that the family will tell Big Mama the truth later. Then, ignoring Brick’s anger, she recounts the story of Skipper, Brick’s college friend whose homosexual love Brick cannot or will not return. Maggie says that she forced Skipper to face his feelings for Brick. To prove her wrong, Skipper tried to make love to her but could not. He later died of drink. Maggie reminds Brick that although Skipper is dead, she, Maggie, is alive and able to conceive a child. Brick asks how she plans to do that when he hates her.

At that moment, the family enters, bearing Big Daddy’s birthday cake. Big Daddy becomes annoyed that others, especially Big Mama, appear to be trying to run his life. Since he no longer believes he is threatened by a terminal illness, he announces...

(The entire section is 968 words.)