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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Tennessee Williams

Act II: Part one

Act I: Part three

Act II: Part Two

Summary

Big Daddy enters ferociously and greets Brick. Just then, the rest of the family is heard approaching. Reverend Tooker is discussing memorial windows with Gooper; Mae is rattling off the children's immunizations. Maggie turns on the Hi-Fi, and Daddy orders it off and then on again when Big Mama bursts in calling for her baby Brick. She then pulls Tooker into her lap for some inelegant horseplay. Brick remains aloof amid the hubbub.

The servants enter with Daddy's cake, and a grotesque sing-a-long commences. Ordering everyone to be quiet, Daddy begins interrogating Brick on his broken ankle. Maggie attempts to divert Daddy's attention with his birthday gift and begins cat fighting with Mae. Daddy is relentless and asks if Brick was cutting himself a "piece o'poon-tang" last night on the track. Smiling vaguely from his stupor, Brick explains he was only jumping hurdles.

When the family attempts to continue the party, Daddy furiously orders everyone to stop. Mama forbids him to speak so crudely, and he does not mean what he is saying. Daddy accuses Big Mama of trying to take over. Now that he knows he only has a spastic colon, she is not about to take over his plantation. His colon has become spastic out of disgust, disgust over the lies and hypocrisy he has lived with for forty years. Woefully Mama sobs that he has never believed that she loved him. "Wouldn't it be funny if that was true…" Daddy murmurs to himself.

The rest of family has exited discreetly. Daddy bellows for Brick. Maggie delivers him, giving him a kiss on the mouth that he immediately wipes off and girlishly flying out. Daddy asks Brick why he wiped off her kiss. Maggie has a better shape than Mae but the same look. Daddy says they are as nervous as cats on a hot tin roof. Brick replies that they are wrangling for a bigger piece of the land. Daddy laughs that he is not about to let the land go.

Suddenly Daddy notices someone by the door. He calls for Gooper and Mae enters. Angrily he decrees that there will be no spying in his house. He knows Mae and Gooper have been spying on Brick and Maggie from the next-door bedroom and reporting to Mama. Protesting her unjust martyrdom, Mae flees.

Daddy turns to Brick and says that Mae and Gooper have been saying that he will not sleep with Maggie. If he does not like her, he should get rid of her. As Brick freshens his drink and Daddy brings up his drinking problem. Daddy asks if that is the reason why Brick quit sports announcing. Huskily he orders Brick to pay attention and asks him to join him on the sofa. Brick cannot throw his life away.

Daddy asks why he quit and Brick answers that he does not know. Daddy reels a little from his cigar; the mantel clock chimes ten sweetly. His gestures tense and jerky, he asks Brick why it is "so damn hard" for people to talk.

Analysis

Act II begins with the first meeting between Big Daddy and Brick of the play, a meeting quickly interrupted by Daddy's birthday festivities. Gooper, Mae, and Maggie's wrangling is thinly veiled at best; the grandchildren put on a burlesque of familial devotion; and Reverend Tooker tactlessly discusses death and memorial windows.

Daddy's coarse outburst disrupts the party chatter, moving rapidly to the primary action of Act II, the encounter of father and son. Believing that he has returned from the dead, Daddy rejects all the hypocritical, pandering crap about him and proceeds to set his son straight. Belligerently, Daddy interrogates Brick on his sex life and his drinking. He asks him why he will not sleep with Maggie.

As the interrogation progresses, the relationship between Brick's sexuality and his drinking will become clearer. In attempting to establish a certain intimacy with Brick, Daddy will call him to judgment and help him become his rightful heir. He will refuse Brick's attempts at flight, refuse to allow his repressions to keep things unspoken between them, and force Brick to recognize the desire he could not avow in his friendship with Skipper. What melodramatically impels this Act is the men's showdown over what remains inadmissible between them. The two men push progressively toward the inadmissible's revelation. Note here the use of the clock. Its chime marks a shift in the scene's rhythm, moving into the father-son dialogue that composes the rest of the act. As Maggie notes in Act I, Daddy is an old-fashioned "Mississippi redneck"—large, brash, and vulgar. His humor is decidedly grotesque, much to the amusement of Maggie. Maggie, as she muses in Act I, is genuinely fond of Daddy and the only other one present attuned to and amused by grotesquerie.

The primary butt of Daddy's jokes is Big Mama, who bears the brunt of his rage when she attempts to calm him. As he tells Mama, his colon has become spastic out of disgust from the lies and hypocrisy that define their life together. When Mama helpless laments that he has never believed she loved him, he can only murmur bitterly: "Wouldn't it be funny if that was true…"

Mama appears deep in denial, constantly insisting that Big Daddy does not mean what he says. Note how she almost willfully misapprehends Daddy's disgust with mendacity. At first glance, it appears that Daddy's remark calls Mama's love into question. Daddy, however, does not doubt Mama's almost embarrassingly dogged devotion. His disgust is with his own mendacity, the life he has spent with a woman he cannot stand.

We should also mark Daddy's lecture carefully, a lecture Brick himself will come to repeat soon after. This lecture begins to elaborate the play's parallel loves, that of Brick and Maggie and Daddy and Mama. Put otherwise, Daddy is not only Brick's judge, but he is also his double. Daddy's narcissistic love for Brick is clear. As Williams notes, Brick bears the same charmingly masculine indifference Daddy must have in his youth. Brick is his would-be heir, his means of immortality. As Mama will note at the close of the play, Daddy wants above all that Brick provide him a grandson who is as much like his son as Brick is like himself. The mirror relationship between them will become clearer in the course of their dialogue progresses, in which Brick and Daddy will appear through various structures of rivalry.

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