Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Analysis
by Tennessee Williams

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Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Mississippi Delta

*Mississippi Delta. Fertile farming region of the western part of the state of Mississippi that is bordered by the Mississippi River. Brick and Maggie’s plantation is located in this region, which is dominated by large cotton plantations and strong family traditions. One of these traditions is to pass family plantations from fathers to eldest sons, but only to sons who have children to continue the tradition. In Tennessee Williams’s play, Brick’s father, Big Daddy Pollitt, is dying. He wishes to leave the plantation to Brick but hesitates because Brick has become a drunkard, and his wife, Maggie, has yet to produce the necessary grandson to carry on the Delta tradition.

Plantation house

Plantation house. Home of Brick and Maggie, whose large and beautiful bedroom opens on a veranda that encircles the second floor of the house. The room is clearly fit for important people to occupy and hold court; by the end of the play, the entire seventeen member cast has been received there. Also the place in which marriages are celebrated, the room is ironically a soft and beautiful prison in which Maggie’s desire for Brick goes unrequited. No matter how she appeals to Brick to make love, he rejects her, thereby turning their bedroom into a place where Maggie feels tormented, trapped like a cat on a hot tin roof.

Historical Context

(Drama for Students)

Domestic Life in the 1950s
The year of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof's debut, 1955, was an interesting time for male and female relationships, a pre-feminist/pre-gay rights era when ideas about alternative life styles were incubating, though not openly emerging. According to the era's social norms, there simply was no viable alternative for the traditional, mom, dad, and two children family pattern that was portrayed in television shows such as Father Knows Best; in reality, few American families came close to this idealized version of life.

The 1950s also saw young people begin to question the dictates of society; many began experimenting with drugs, dress, dance, and language that challenged convention—though in a rather tame way compared to the counterculture movement of the 1960s. Actor James Dean, a role model of disaffected arrogance and diffidence, starred in his two hit films in 1955, East of Eden and Rebel without a Cause, then died unexpectedly at the age of 24 in a car wreck that September. He was instantly catapulted from film star to mythic icon. Like Dean's popular film characters, it became hip to smoke with a squint, wear a black leather jacket, and stand apart from society in aloof judgement.

The Beats
Nineteen-fifty-five was also the time of literary introspection, black turtlenecks, and booze—all hallmarks of what became known as the Beat Generation. The Beats, however, did not include everyone, just a segment of mostly intellectual nonconformists. In 1955 poet Allen Ginsberg (aged 29) read "Howl'' to an small but appreciative audience in Berkeley, California. The poem would become a landmark in Beat literature (along with Jack Kerouac's On the Road), contributing to the general "hipness'' of the literary arts with its jazzy pastiche of the beat life executed in one long, breathless sentence. The phrase the "Beat Generation" had been introduced to the world in a 1952 New York Times Magazine article written by John Clellon Holmes, a writer on the periphery of the Beat movement. Holmes explained that for the Beat Generation "the valueless abyss of modern life is unbearable." This was the generation that grew up with the ever-present knowledge that "the bomb" would inevitably be dropped. Drinking and drugs were a common method of escape for a time. Cynicism and idealism fused into a posture of studied indifference—with an element of wistful hope.

Women in 1950s Culture
The majority of women in the 1950s wore gut-pinching girdles and accepted their role as home-makers. For a woman of this era to want a career was unique but to want a career and a family was unprecedented. Women were expected to choose one or...

(The entire section is 2,500 words.)