Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 431
In the course of a single evening characters assemble for emotional fireworks and the explosion of the lies by which they all are living.
It is Big Daddy’s 65th birthday, but he does not realize it will be his last. His two sons and their wives, however, know he is dying of cancer and want him to determine which of them will inherit his huge plantation. Brick has the edge, being his parents’ favorite, yet Gooper and Mae keep pointing to his drinking and his childless wife and then to their own five offspring.
The major force in the play is Brick’s wife, Maggie, whose vitality has survived Brick’s persisting sexual rejection of her. Deeply in love with Brick, she wants to produce a grandchild for Big Daddy. Both she and Big Daddy try to make Brick face the facts of his drinking and his sexual abstention.
Brick started drinking and stopped making love with Maggie when his best friend and fellow football star, Skipper, died. He refuses to acknowledge any sexual element in their closeness, having been so indoctrinated by his society with the idea that a sexual relationship between two men is dirty.
The resolution of the play remains ambiguous, but the well-drawn characters and Williams’ splendidly rhetorical Southern dialogue create high-powered drama, with some superb comedy as well. Maggie (“the Cat”) and Big Daddy remain two of American drama’s most vital and fascinating characters.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Tennessee Williams. New York: Chelsea House, 1987. A collection of critical essays that includes thorough discussions of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Ruby Cohn, who examines themes and characters; Robert Heilman, who explores different “levels” of the play; and Esther Jackson, who focuses on the play’s symbolism.
Falk, Signi Lenea. Tennessee Williams. 2d ed. Boston: Twayne, 1978. A useful introduction to Williams and his works. Summarizes critical assessments of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
Hirsch, Foster. A Portrait of the Artist: The Plays of Tennessee Williams. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1979. An overview of Williams’ work and career. Concludes that Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is “dishonest” but well crafted.
Spoto, Donald. The Kindness of Strangers: The Life of Tennessee Williams. Boston: Little, Brown, 1985. A thorough biography that includes critical commentary. Argues that Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a deliberately ambiguous yet “compassionate” play.
Williams, Tennessee. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. New York: New Directions, 1955. A useful edition that contains both versions of Act III and commentary by Williams in which he explains why he wrote the second ending.