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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Tennessee Williams

Analysis of Major Characters

Character List

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols


The play's cat, Maggie, is a hysterical, dissatisfied woman left prostrate before a brick of a man, Brick. Maggie's loneliness lies in Brick's refusal to recognize her desire. His refusal to make her his desire has made her hard, nervous, and bitter.

Imagined here as the woman constantly posing in the mirror, Maggie is perhaps the most fascinating character of the play. As Williams indicates, she holds the audiences transfixed. The exhilaration of the play lies in the force of the audience's identification with its gorgeous heroine, a woman desperate in her sense of lack, masochistically bound to a man who do not want her, and made all the more beautiful in her envy, longing, and dispossession.

Against the indifferent Brick, the frantic Maggie literally begins to fall to pieces. Throughout Act I, Maggie appears changing her clothes, posing before the mirror, preparing for the party. She appears at her most seductive and most vulnerable, utterly unable to lure her husband's desire. Indeed his gaze of disgust, freezing her in the mirror, precipitates her "hideous transformation" into "Maggie the Cat." Maggie's dispossession also lies in her childlessness. Her childlessness calls her status as wife and woman into question. As a childless woman she is a woman who lacks. Without a child, moreover, her and Brick's place in Big Daddy's household is not assured.

Maggie is figured through a number of tropes of virginity. Earlier she sarcastically refers to herself as "Saint Maggie"; at one point Mae enters toting her Diana trophy; at the close of the play, Mae will joke that the only way she could have conceived of a child is immaculately. The desperate Maggie is subject to a miserable second virginity, a virginity that stands, in the logic of the play, against the grotesqueness of fertility. At the risk of being glib, we should note also that Maggie's trophy symbolizes her status as a "trophy wife."


The favorite son and mourned lover, Brick possesses the charm of those who have given up and assumed a pose of indifference before the world. Brick embodies an almost archetypal masculinity, that of the self-possessed, self-contained, untouchable, and phallically intact man. Before this indifferent block, characters find themselves in the throes of desire (Maggie, Mama) or state of aggression (Daddy).

At the same time, Brick is an obviously broken man. Turning from his homosexual desire for his dead friend Skipper, Brick has depressively withdrawn from the world behind a screen of liquor. He is reduced to the daily, mechanical search for his click that gives him peace. Thus he would locate himself on the far side of the family drama.

Brick's brokenness is materialized in his injury, a broken ankle incurred while jumping hurdles on the high school athletic field. In a sense, it is an injury incurred out of nostalgia for the early days of his friendship with Skipper, the time of what Maggie describes as their Greek legend. This injury, a wound in his otherwise intact masculinity, is also a figure for his castration, the unmanning implied in homosexual desire.

Brick is brought to judgment on his desire twice in the place: first by Maggie in Act I and then by Daddy in Act II. When Daddy approaches what has been tenuously repressed, Brick desperately attempts to dodge him, emptying his words of all significance. As he tells Daddy, their talks never materialize: nothing is said. When Daddy presses him, Brick reveals why he yearns for "solid quiet," why he would deny that their talks take place anywhere or refer to anything: they are painful. As Williams notes, Brick's horror at the thought of being identified with the litany of epithets that he recites ("Fairies") marks the extent of his internalization of the lie of conventional morality, the lie to which Mama pathetically clings and on which Maggie places her bets at the end of the play.

Big Daddy

Affectionately dubbed by Maggie as an old-fashioned "Mississippi redneck," Daddy is a large, brash, and vulgar plantation millionaire who believes he has returned from the grave. He loves Brick dearly, favoring him as his rightful heir.

Though his coming death has been quickly repressed—as Freud notes, the unconscious can never know its own death—in some sense Daddy has confronted its possibility. His near-death is a limit experience. Daddy returns from death and dismisses the vanitas of his worldly possessions: a rich man cannot buy his life. After years with a woman he cannot stand, he is bent on acting on his desire in all its violence. Not only will he buy a beautiful woman, but he will smother her in minks, choke her with diamonds. Daddy is murderous in his fetishism. As he will tell Brick, there is little shocking on the other side of the moon, "death's country." Daddy's sojourn in "death's country" perhaps explains his reminiscence of his world travels and the child prostitute in particular, his encounter with that which civilization would repress at all costs. In returning from death's country, Daddy would force his son to face his own desire.

Big Mama

Fat, breathless, sincere, earnest, bedecked in flashy gems, and occasionally grotesque, Mama is a woman embarrassingly dedicated to a man who despises her and in denial of his disgust. She is sympathetic as an object of pity, affection, and indulgence. She also favors Brick, investing him with all her hopes for the future of the family. As she implores in Act IV, Brick must carry on the family line, he must provide Big Daddy with a grandson as similar to he as he is to Daddy himself.

Mama's moment of dignity comes upon the revelation of Daddy's cancer. Here she becomes a woman who, despite the humiliations, has stood by her man. The play is enamored and at the same time somewhat amused with this image of dogged feminine loyalty. Notice Williams's humorously catty irony: as the stage notes indicate, Mama in her dignity almost stops being fat.

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Misleading use of characters' names

by Jamesy777, April 19, 2014

It is disconcerting that you refer to Big Daddy and Big Mama as Daddy and Mama.


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Grammar makes this confusing

by meeacaroline, November 17, 2014

There are missing words, confusing statements, lack of punctuation, and more all throughout. I'm not saying I could or could not do particularly better, but it makes it incredibly difficult to figure out what is going on. I like to read the summary of each act (scene when possible) before reading it in the play because I have difficulty keeping up with the action in plays because I have trouble registering the characters and found that the summary here actually confused me more. Also, Act III: Part 2 is mislabled as Act IV: Part 2.

You literally ment figuratively

by Saraph13, February 18, 2015

2nd paragraph, Maggie "literally begins to fall to pieces"? Really? Unless there is some awesome zombie rendition of this play or a version where Maggie is a leper, I don't think that's what you ment.


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