Why Do You Think Tennessee Williams Called
His Play Cat On A Hot Tin Roof Essay, Research Paper
This title manages to capture the essence of the story in one sentence as it becomes increasingly evident that almost every character in the play is on edge about something or like cats on a hot tin roof . The whole family are trapped by their circumstances, no one more so than Maggie and her deteriorating marriage to Brick.
Maggie is essentially a good person who loves her husband despite the obvious challenge it is for her to get any sort of reciprocation of feelings. However because of this, the real Maggie, the pleasant Maggie, does not appear too often and we are presented with a woman that has:
gone through this hideous! transformation, become hard!
This side of Maggie is bitter and frustrated with Brick and the state of their relationship; she is lonely but loves him too much to leave;
Living with someone you love can be lonelier than living entirely alone! If the one that y love doesn t love you
She is continuously battling with Brick to regain his love, utterly determined to have her way;
one thing I don t have is the charm of the defeated,
my hat is still in the ring, and I am determined to win!
The idea that she is like a cat on a hot tin roof highlights various traits of her character and the most obvious is her determination, for;
What is the victory of a cat on a hot tin roof? I wish I knew
Just staying on it, I guess, as long as she can .
There is a reason for this obvious dislike Brick has for his wife but it is a subject that is strictly unmentionable between them the subject of Skipper. At the mention of his name Brick becomes agitated and tries to escape, which makes it evident that, this is the root to all his problems he is trying to run away from;
Maggie shut up about skipper. I mean it, Maggie; you got to shut up about Skipper.
Maggie knows this and uses it to her advantage; she tries to make Brick talk about it – to break the laws of silence that have been imposed. She pushes the issue by asking Brick questions hoping he will open up to her;
What were you thinking of when I caught you looking at me like that?
Were you thinking of Skipper?
And when he won t talk she becomes catty again;
Oh, excuse me, forgive me, but laws of silence don t work! No, laws of silence don t work .
As well as emotional rejection Maggie has to endure physical rejection from Brick as he makes it painfully clear that he detests any form of bodily contact with her:
Brick; I ve dropped my crutch
Maggie; Lean on my shoulder
Brick; I don t want to lean on your shoulder, I want my crutch!
Not only does he do this to her when they are alone, but he even does it in front of the rest of the family:
Big Daddy; Why did you do that?
Brick; Do what, Big Daddy?
Big Daddy; Wipe her kiss off your mouth like she d spit on you.
However, even when she has so much she should upset about with regards to the way her own husband is treating her she sees outbursts as a step forward;
that s the first time I ve heard you raise your voice in a long time, Brick. A crack in the wall? Of composure? I think that s a good sign . A sign of nerves in a player on the defensive!
On top of all of this, everything that goes on in the house is repressed by the fact that the walls in this house have ears i.e. Mae is probably trying to listen to what is going on so she can report to Big Mama;
Big Daddy; You listen at night like a couple of rutten peek-hole spies and go and give report on what you hear to Big Mama
This little game is all part of the ongoing rivalry between Maggie and her sister in law, there is a constant battle over even the pettiest things, but the main reason behind it is the inheritance. It is mentioned that Big Daddy has written no will so it has become a competition to see who will get the estate when Big Daddy does pass away. Maggie seems to think that;
Mae an Gooper are plannin to freeze us out of Big Daddy s entire estate because you drink and I m childless
This in fact isn t far from the truth because Mae is constantly making little digs about Brick s drinking problem and the fact that he won t sleep with Maggie, but even though this hurts Maggie she doesn t show Mae this and gives as good as she gets so to speak;
Mae; Brick you should ve been downstairs after supper! Kiddies put on a show. Big Daddy just beamed! He just beamed!
Maggie; oh, I bet. It breaks my heart that we missed it! .. But Mae why did y give dawgs names to all your kiddies?
Mae; Maggie? why are you so catty?
Maggie; Cause I m a cat!
To some all of this cattiness over the inheritance may seem like Maggie is being greedy but in fact she just wants to make sure that they get their fair share so she can look after herself and Brick and not be so God damn disgustingly poor as she has been all her life.
She does not have any malicious feelings towards Mae, she is just consumed with envy an eaten up with longing at the fact that Mae has so many children and she herself has none but that is something she plans to overcome;
Maggie; you see? they gloat over us being childless I ve been to a doctor in Memphis, a a gynaecologist there s no reason why we can t have a child whenever we want one. And this is my time by the calendar to conceive
Brick; how in hell do you imagine that you re going to have a child by a man that can t stand you?
Maggie That s a problem that I will have to work out.
Maggie is such a strong character who has so much to bear but is so utterly determined to succeed that she seems almost immune to the pain she must be feeling. It would be so easy for her to just give up but she d rather stay on this hot tin roof and makes it clear to Brick that she can stay on it just as long as I have to .
Maggie is not the only one who has their own hot tin roof to bear, every member of the family has problems although there is more emphasis on Maggie s. Another character whose existence has startling similarities to Maggie s though is Big Mama. She too is trapped inside a marriage where she gives her love wholeheartedly yet receives none in return in fact it almost seems as if her husband hates her;
All I ask of that woman is that she leave me alone. But she can t admit to herself that she makes me sick
Your loud voice everywhere, your fat old body butting in here and there!
You don t know a god damn thing and you never did!
So it seems that Big Mama has had to struggle living with Big Daddy although;
Big Mama; I even loved your hate and your hardness Big Daddy!
Although all of the characters obviously have their own individual, personal problems the most evident pressure on the family, as a whole lately has of course been Big Daddy s suspected cancer which – for a while is thought to have been given the all clear ;
Do you know the wonderful news that Doc Baugh got from the clinic about Big Daddy? Big Daddy s one hundred per cent! I was worried sick, half out of my mind
On the outside it seems that the family are very worried but Big Mama may have been the only one worried about Big Daddy himself the rest of them seem to have other things on their mind, like the inheritance. As already mentioned, the inheritance has been the cause of most of the confrontations amongst the family, initiated mainly by Mae and Gooper. They are so desperate to have their hands on all of the money that they even try to trick Big Mama into signing everything over to them in a dummy trusteeship by telling her it is just a preliminary outline when of course it isn t. We already know that Maggie is onto their plan but equally Big Mama is also on the ball and will have none of it;
I m his wife, not his widow, I m still his wife! Nobody s goin to take nothin !
it is at this point that Gooper s problem is revealed, he has been harbouring such bitter feelings about his relationship with Big Daddy compared with that of Big Daddy and Brick. This is something that he seems to have had to bear for most of his life;
I ve resented Big Daddy s partiality to Brick ever since Brick was born, the way I ve been treated like I was just barely good enough to spit on and sometimes not even good enough for that
Although it may seem as though Gooper has problems, he has learnt to cope with it and has managed to create a successful life for himself whereas Brick s problems are too great for him to cope with. Brick is battling with his own conscience over what happened with Skipper and wondering whether or not he is responsible but not only has he got his to cope with he is also unsure of his sexuality. No one knows this however because Brick bottles it up and, instead of trying to solve his problems, has decided to jump off of his hot tin roof and escape the pressure through alcohol;
Maggie; you always had that detached quality that rare sort of charm that usually only happens in very old or hopelessly sick people, the charm of the defeated.
They are all trapped by their problems making life hard for themselves; they don t seem to want to make it easier by being honest with themselves and each other. One of the themes of the play seems to be deceits and it raises the issue of whether or not it can be justified is it better to face up to things or to run away like Brick has chosen to and, in fact Big Daddy, who has known in his heart that something was really wrong but refused to believe it. The whole family are like animals pacing around and around each other in a cage, they cannot talk to each other – they are all silenced by their circumstances totally consumed with their own problems to worry about anyone else s.
This hothouse atmosphere aims to depict ordinary people acting in a crisis, looking at how they face pressures of real life. It gives examples of all sorts of defence mechanisms that people take on such as Big Daddy s denial, Brick s escapism through alcohol and Maggie s hard faced cattiness. But it also brings up other issues on the way for example, as already mentioned, the issue of mendacity and whether or not it is something that you ve got to live with . Another issue I think Tennessee Williams is trying to raise is acceptance. The whole storyline with Brick s sexuality seems to be a plea to society that there should be less black and white judgements about people with this particular play, whether they are homosexual or heterosexual it should make no difference.
Williams manages to fulfil his aims in a number of ways throughout the play. He maintains the tense atmosphere within the house by using things like interruptions during particularly tense moments. For example when Brick and Maggie are in the heat of an argument about Skipper;
[a little girl, Dixie bursts into the room, wearing an Indian war bonnet and firing a cap pistol at Maggie and shouting Bang, bang, bang! ]
A similar technique is used when Big Daddy and Brick are talking privately there is interruption after interruption, Big Mama keeps returning to seek reassurance from Big Daddy that he didn t mean all those awful things he said and the fact that there are fireworks outside and people on the gallery who could walk in at any second adds to the tense atmosphere. The actual setting of the play adds to the atmosphere because it all takes place in the same room so you know that it is almost inevitable that there will be other people entering or eavesdropping at the very least. To make it even worse the hot weather means that the gallery doors have to be open all the time making it even easier for other members of the family to walk in on anything that may be going on, there is no privacy.
Lastly the fact that it is a birthday party means that there is an air of forced happiness amongst the characters when really, even Big Daddy himself, doesn t really feel happy at all. The underlying tension is obvious and Williams is very successful at making this so.
Not only is the title an appropriate one for this play and the situations these characters find themselves faced with, but it is also a good metaphor for life. The pressures we face can often make us feel as though we are ourselves on a hot tin roof and I think Tennessee Williams fulfils his aims in getting this across through both the play and it s title.