I had bought Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at a book sale a couple of years back. I read A Streetcar Named Desire last year, and I absolutely loved it. I had a lot of expectations as I began to read this play. I must say I was pleasantly surprised by this one.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams focuses on a rich family, Pollitts, who own a plantation in Mississippi Delta. The patriarch of the family is called Big Daddy and his wife Big Mama. Margaret is married to the younger son Brick, an ex-football player. Gooper is Brick’s older brother, an attorney by profession, and is married to Mae; they have five kids with the sixth one on its way. All of the family has gathered at the plantation because of Big Daddy failing health; he has cancer, and everyone is trying to angle towards their share of the huge estate. The play begins with Maggie (Margaret) and Brick arguing. Brick has been drinking too much, and things aren’t going well between him and Maggie. Everyone keeps taunting Maggie about her childlessness, and she feels neglected by her husband.
Maggie had an affair with Brick’s best friend, Skipper. Whenever she brings him up, Brick gets very angry with her. All the neglect and taunting make her catty, she admits she is being catty. It is Big Daddy’s birthday, and there is a party. No one has told Big Mama the truth about Big Daddy’s health reports, and Big Daddy doesn’t know the truth either. Brick is their favorite child, and there is a sense of neglect and sibling rivalry between Gooper and Brick because of it. Big Daddy questions Brick about his drinking, and as the conversation gets a little heated, Brick tells him about his cancer diagnosis. Gooper and Mae sit Big Mama down and tell her about the reports, but she does not believe them. She wants Brick to tell her the truth, and after accepting the diagnosis, she feels remorseful about Brick not having kids yet; Maggie announces that she is pregnant.
Brick and his father are both objects of unrequited love. Big mama loves Big Daddy very much and does seem devoted to him, but he could care less. He makes fun of her in front of other people, disrespects her in public and private life all the time. He doesn’t believe she has ever loved him. Skipper loved Brick for years up until his death. Brick could never reciprocate that love. He suppressed his feelings for Skipper because, at that time, homosexual relationships were not accepted and, Brick himself feels that it is wrong. It does seem like he did have feelings for Skipper, but out of fear, he never accepted them. Maggie loves Brick, and his neglect towards her puts her on the edge. She felt like a third wheel to Sipper and Brick in the beginning. Every time she tries to talks to Brick about him and Skipper, he gets angry. At times, he seems almost indifferent to her. Like his father, Brick also doesn’t believe that Maggie loves him.
The one constant theme throughout the play is lies. In the play, everyone is lying in one way or another. They lie to Big Daddy and Big Mama about the health reports. Maggie lies about the state of her and Brick’s relationship to others. Brick drowns himself in drinking because he is lying to himself about Skipper. Brick and Skipper had a very close friendship, even Maggie felt like an outsider. Skipper confessed his love to Brick when he was drunk over the phone, and Brick got angry with him. Skipper’s death hits him really hard, especially after their last conversation was that day on the phone. Brick doesn’t think his feelings for Skipper are right and hence, lies to himself that it was a pure friendship. Mae and Gooper pretend to be in a happy relationship with each other, but there is an underlying tension in their interactions. Their life is not as perfect as they pretend it to be. In the end, Maggie at least tries to make her lies a reality. There is a lack of communication in a way among the family members.
The pace of the play is very engaging. Things move along quickly, but it never seems rushed. The way the characters are written is not exactly relatable; I don’t think it is supposed to be that way. You do feel a little sympathy for them throughout the story, especially towards Maggie and Brick. The writing by Tennessee Williams and the level of intensity maintained throughout the play is amazing. I loved reading Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and by the end, the title makes complete sense.
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