Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

by Tennessee Williams

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Student Question

Assess the role of traditional heritage in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

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Like so much in a Williams work, there are layers of complexity to the role and significance of tradition and heritage in the drama.  On one hand, Maggie probably is the best representation of how tradition and heritage can lock people into roles.  Maggie is unable to shed the idea that her marriage is one that defies tradition.  The traditional expectation that is placed upon her is that she should have had a child and that her and Brick should be happily married.  At the same time, the traditional conception of marriage is one in which husband and wife discourse does not embrace the painful psychological condition of each, but rather the temporal and contingent.  Maggie trying to meet this tradition- bound expectation is where her character's primary motivation lies.  In the end of the drama when she speaks to Brick about "making the lie true," it is a moment in which tradition and heritage conspire to kill the truth in the name of a false and external view of reality.  At the same time, the traditional notions of a "man" are challenged in the drama.  Brick's inability to be honest about his emotions to Maggie, Skipper, and his father contribute to what Williams would terms his "moral paralysis."  Brick cannot be honest because of the social standard that dictates men do not talk about such realities.  In this, Williams seems to be suggesting that the traditional and heritage driven idea of what constitutes "a man" is a standard that seems to deny true understanding of one's emotions and articulating them.

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