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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Tennessee Williams

Act I: Part two

Act I: Part one

Act I: Part three

Summary

Brick asks Maggie to promise to keep her voice down. In return, she asks that he make his drink the last one until after Big Daddy's birthday party. Brick has forgotten Daddy's birthday. He refuses to pretend he remembered and sign the card to the present Maggie bought. When Maggie protests, Brick reminds her of the conditions of his living with her. Maggie declares that his conditions are impossible.

Suddenly Mae appears carrying a bow—Maggie's "Diana Trophy" from her intercollegiate archery days. Mae chastises her for leaving it out for her children to meddle with. Maggie retorts that she should teach her children to keep their hands off what does not belong to them. She mocks the brood for all having dog names. Mae exits.

Brick chides Maggie for being so catty. Maggie retorts that her envy and longing make her so. She can no longer bear their relationship; she feels all the time like a cat on a hot tin roof. Brick suggests that she jump off and take a lover. Maggie, however, wants only Brick. She implores him to get fat and ugly so she can stand it.

Maggie fiercely locks the door and draws the curtains. Brick warns her against making a fool of herself. Maggie grabs him by the shoulder. He breaks away and fends her off with a boudoir chair as if a lion tamer. Maggie erupts into hysterical laughter.

Big Mama is heard trying to get in; Brick hobbles to the bathroom and kicks the door shut. Mama enters with news from the Ochsner Clinic. The tests show that all Daddy has is a "spastic! SPASTIC!—colon." A phone is heard ringing, and Sookey brings it in saying that Miss Sally has called from Memphis. Mama and Maggie relate the results of Daddy's tests to the near-deaf relation.

Mama starts out of the room but stops at the door and asks silently if Brick has been drinking. Maggie plays dumb. Mama persists: Brick never touched liquor before his marriage. Something is not right: Maggie is childless, and Brick drinks. When a marriage goes on the rocks, the rocks are in the bed.

As Mama exits, Maggie hunches up and grimaces at herself in the mirror. She asks herself who she is and answers, in a thin, mocking voice, "I am Maggie the Cat!" He straightens herself quickly when Brick cautiously emerges from the bathroom with his liquor glass emptied. He hobbles to the liquor cabinet. Maggie is certain their sex life will start up again. Posing before the mirror, she pleadingly insists that Brick will see her once more as other men still do. She recounts how Sonny Boy Maxwell made a pass at her at Alice's party; Brick wonders why she just did not sleep with him.

Maggie refuses to leave him. Besides, if she did, he would not have a cent to pay for his drinking upon Big Daddy's death. The doctors have lied to Daddy and Mama but tonight, at his last birthday, the truth will be revealed. Mae and Gooper are here with their no-necked monsters because Daddy has yet to make a will.

Analysis

The second portion Act I stages Maggie's humiliation and her pathetically comic attempt to seduce Brick. Williams punctuates her clash with Brick with two interruptions: Mae's and Big Mama's. Note how he does so self-consciously and how Mae announces that intermission is over upon her exit. Though Act I unfolds primarily between Maggie and Brick, the audience is always made aware of the potential for such interruptions through, for example, off-stage noise and references in the dialogue. As Mama remarks, no one is to have privacy in her house.

Mae's entrance introduces us to the rivalry between the play's two cats. Mae brings with her a particularly symbolic object: Maggie's Diana trophy. Maggie is figured through a number of tropes of virginity. Earlier, she sarcastically refers to herself as "Saint Maggie"; 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 again 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 Brick's trophy wife.

Upon Mae's exit, Maggie cracks under the weight of her desire. Though she continually attempts to return to more everyday conversation, she ultimately finds herself unable to bear her envy, longing, and the inhuman conditions of her marriage. She attempts to seduce her husband. Embarrassed for her, Brick fends her off like a lion-tamer. The dissatisfied Maggie collapses into hysterical laughter before her grinning husband—apparently the scene is all too familiar to them.

Maggie can only protest weakly at the injustice of Mama's decree that the rocks in their marriage lie with her. Maggie appears utterly alone and bound to a man who does not desire her. Her exceptionally poignant pose before the mirror and pleading attempt to make Brick jealous only leads him to dismiss her indifferently. Her rhetoric here is hardly innocent. We can summarize it as arguing: "other men want me, so you should too." The importance of the other man in the couple's relationship will become clear in the following scene.

Despite her plea, Brick, as Williams notes, stares at her still as if passing a ball to a teammate. Ultimately Maggie finds herself before the mirror anew, her image undergoing another hideous transformation, an estrangement or depersonalization: "I am Maggie the Cat!" she cries.

This scene is also Big Mama's introduction. Bedecked in flashy gems, Mama is the tragic embodiment of bad taste: fat, breathless, sincere, earnest, occasionally grotesque, and embarrassingly dedicated to a man who despises her. Here she functions, as at the close of the play, as the naïve bearer of the myths of marriage and family. Her investment in these myths will become clear in Act II. Unlike the poised and ironic Maggie, she is a woman bound a man who does not want her and in feeble denial of his disgust. She is sympathetic as an object of the audience's affectionate indulgence. Finally, this scene also makes use of a device of which the play makes great use: the off-stage telephone. As noted above, the continuous interruption of off-stage voices mark the presence of spies in the household. Here the telephone conversation rehearses the lie that keep Big Daddy and Mama ignorant of the machinations afoot, the lie that Daddy will live.

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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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