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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Tennessee Williams

Act I: Part three

Act I: Part two

Act II: Part one

Summary

Continuing her "liturgical chant," Maggie muses on how fond she is of Daddy, a man who has remained a Mississippi redneck despite his wealth. In any case, she has to make sure she and Brick will be provided for. Brick cannot appreciate what it means to have been poor like she was. Maggie has spent her life sucking up to hateful relatives—poverty too has made her like a cat on a hot tin roof. One can be young and without money but not old.

Maggie murmurs that now that she is all dressed, there is nothing else for her to do. Restlessly she announces that she has realized her mistake and she should not have confessed to making love with Skipper. Brick warns her to shut up. She continues: Brick has always asked too much of those who loved him. She and Skipper only made love to each other to dream that it was actually Brick. Brick replies that Skipper had already confessed to him. He moves to the gallery and tells his niece to bring the party upstairs. Possessed, Maggie goes on, because she feels the truth must be told. As if from a Greek legend, Brick and Skipper's love was sad and awful because it could never be satisfied or even talked about. Maggie recalls how on their double dates in college it always seemed the boys were out together. The girls only came along for the public.

Threatening to kill her with his crutch, Brick accuses Maggie of naming the "one great good true thing" in his life dirty. Maggie protests that is naming it clean, so clean that it killed Skipper. Theirs was a love kept on ice, incorruptible: "death was the only icebox were you could keep it…"

Only Skipper knew of the desire between them. Thus he took to drinking after he and Brick decided to reject the job offers and start their own pro football team together. The night of the Thanksgiving game, for which an injured Brick could not play, Maggie confronted Skipper, ordering him to stop loving Brick or make Brick force him admit to it. Skipper smacked her. When she went to his room that they, he made a pitiful attempt to prove her wrong. Brick strikes at her, shattering the table lamp. "Who shot cock-robin?" Maggie cries. "I with my merciful arrow."

Brick strikes and misses anew. Maggie protests that while Skipper is dead, Maggie the cat is alive. Brick hurls his crutch at her and pitches onto the floor. Dixie rushes in wearing an Indian war bonnet and firing a cap pistol at Maggie. When Maggie screams in rage, Dixie, precociously cruel, retorts that Maggie is only jealous because she cannot have babies. She sashays out with her stomach protruding.

Maggie cries that Gooper and Mae even gloat before their no-necked children. She has gone to a doctor in Memphis and knows now is her time of the month to conceive. Brick wonders how she plans to have a child by a man who cannot stand her. Maggie will work it out. She wheels about to face the coming guests.

Analysis

Having finishes dressing before her indifferent husband, Maggie finds herself with nothing to do. Finally she forces the secret between them. The desire between Brick and Skipper is something that the former cannot avow. Here, as if possessed by a will to bring this desire to light, Maggie breaks into a recitation to elaborate on the triangle they once shared. Her compelling revelation is one of the play's more melodramatic, if not soap operatic, moments. They are characterized by the emotional excess and high histrionics of the hysterical heroine.

As Maggie's recitation makes clear, the only true love in Brick's life lay between he and his friend Skipper. Maggie sketches the triangle between the three of them. As she recalls, she accompanied the two football heroes for the benefit of the public—Maggie is nothing if not the trophy wife.

In contrast, Brick and Skipper's love assumes almost mythic dimensions: as Maggie relates that it was the stuff of Greek legend. For Brick, it remains the only true and good thing in his life. Note also the nostalgic nature of their love affair. For example, Brick's return to the high school athletic field is a turn to time lost.

As Maggie notes, theirs was a love that dare not speak its name, a love that could not be satisfied or discussed. Thus Maggie and Skipper abruptly found themselves aligned before the man they both want, a god inaccessible to them both. They made love to dream that Brick was theirs.

Finally Skipper's death shifts the triangle anew. Brick withdraws into mourning, abandoning the world in grief. His mourning is made all the more difficult by a desire he cannot avow. The dead man continues to intervene between husband and wife, and Maggie protests that she is alive in vain.

Sending Brick into a murderous and panicked rage, Maggie's revelation of the repressed finally shatters her husband's coolness. Brick would silence her at all costs. Crucially, his "unmanning" or castration—that is, the revelation of desires which call his masculinity into question—is symbolized and, at the level of the action at least, made possible by his injury. This unmanning will appear more clearly in his dialogue with Big Daddy in Act II.

What interrupts Brick's attack is Dixie's entrance, one of the play's many—to use Williams's terms—"incongruous" but "perfectly timed" interruptions from off-stage. Dixie returns us to Maggie's plight. This grotesque, monkey-like child embodies what Maggie lacks. As she jeers, Maggie is childless, saying that she probably cannot even have babies.

Here Maggie makes her sad, resolute pledge: to bear a child by a man who despises her. Maggie believes that her child would make good on her lack, assure her place in the family, and save her marriage. Thus Act I leaves us with a disaster that remains for a time in suspense. Donning her public face, Maggie turns to meet the family.

Before proceeding with Daddy's birthday party, however, we should also here how Maggie would serve as intermediary for the love between men in a different triangle, one involving Brick and Big Daddy. Here Maggie gives Daddy with a gift in Brick's name, a gift with which Brick will have nothing to do with. We will see this structure repeated in her gift of the child.

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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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1 out of 1 people found this helpful

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.

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