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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Tennessee Williams

Act II: Part Two

Act II: Part one

Act II: Part three

Summary

Daddy remembers buying the clock on his European tour with Mama. He explains how Europe was nothing but a great big awful auction, and that Mama bought boxcars of crap, all of which is rotting in the basement. Daddy is a rich man, worth ten million dollars not counting his 28,000 acres of land, but a rich man cannot buy his life.

Daddy remembers his trip Barcelona, where he had to throw money at the howling, starving children to get rid of them long enough to get back in the car. In Morocco, an Arab woman sent her naked toddler to proposition him with sex. Remarking that Daddy is on a "talkin' jag" tonight, Brick moves to freshen his drink. Daddy muses that man is a beast who dies who buys and buys in hopes of buying life everlasting. Brick replies that he yearns for "solid quiet." Daddy rejoins that he will get plenty to that in the grave and asks why he is trying to shut him up. Brick replies that their talks never materialize and that nothing is said. He tries to look like he listens but he is not successful.

Anxiously Daddy closes the doors and asks if Brick has ever been terrified of anything. He thought he was done for, that he had cancer. He kept a tight mouth about death, since only pigs squeal. Man lacks the pig's comfort, however, and he is the only living thing that conceives of death.

Now, however, he can breathe again. He aims to cut loose and get himself a woman. He spent his life sleeping with Mama and never liking it. The phone rings, and Mama passes through. Brick attempts to exit to the gallery and Daddy orders him to sit. Mama is heard telling Miss Sally that Daddy is all right. She attempts to re-enter the bedroom, but Daddy holds the door closed against her. She leaves with a childlike sob.

Daddy returns to his fantasies. He plans to buy himself a choice woman, to "strip her naked and smother her in minks and choke her with diamonds" and "hump her from hell to breakfast." He shyly moves over to Brick and fondly presses his head against his son's.

Brick sighs and rises. He has not gotten the click in his head that makes him peaceful. He explains sadly that it is a "mechanical thing," turning the hot light off and the cool night on. Daddy muses that death made him blind; he did not realize his son had become an alcoholic. Brick excuses himself, since he only gets his click when alone. Their talk is "nowhere" and "painful."

Angrily Daddy tosses Brick's crutch across the room. Now that he is back, he will straighten Brick out. A little girl bursts into the room with sparklers in her fists, hopping and shrieking like a mad monkey. Brick retrieves his crutch and flees in horror from the room. Daddy catches him by the sleeve. Mama rushes in, and Daddy orders her out. Brick breaks loose, and Daddy jerks his crutch from under him. Brick collapses in anguish.

Analysis

During the conversation, Daddy comes close to the topic that remains repressed between them, and refuses to allow Brick his flight. Before reaching the secrets that rest between them, Daddy takes advantage of the pause opened by the clock chimes to pursue a rather strange detour through his travels with Big Mama. Of particular note are the anecdotes of the screaming children in Barcelona and child prostitute in Morocco. Daddy's memories of his travels introduce a motif familiar to Williams's readers: the Mediterranean/North Africa as a primal space, a space savagery, lawlessness, and sexual excess, all that which civilization would repress. The most notorious example of this fantasy probably comes from Suddenly Last Summer, in which a wealthy Southerner who takes gay sex trips to the region is devoured by a band of street children. These exotic locales and their inhabitants become ciphers for the desires that remain repressed at the home. For example, later, Brick tells of a fraternity pledge who flees to North Africa when the brothers discover that he is a sodomite.

Two repressed ideas demanding revelation, what Williams calls "inadmissible things," structure this showdown between father and son. The inadmissible things are Daddy's imminent death and Brick's homosexual desire. The first is a point of dramatic irony throughout the scene, since Daddy believes he has returned from the grave. 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. As he tells Brick, what distinguishes man from beast is the terrifying apprehension of his own demise.

Daddy returns from death and dismisses the vanitas of his worldly possessions and understands that a rich man cannot buy his life. Instead he is bent on acting on his desire in all its violence. Not only will he buy a beautiful woman but smother her in minks, choke her with diamonds, but Daddy is murderous in his fetishism. Note the ironic intervention here of what Williams's terms the "perfectly timed" yet "incongruous" interruption: Mama's pitiable entrance at the very moment Daddy dreams of infidelity.

As Daddy will tell Brick, there is little that shocks in "death's country." Daddy's sojourn in "death's country" perhaps recalls his reminiscence of his world travels and the child prostitute in particular. Daddy's encounter, "on the other side of the moon," with that civilization would be repressed at all costs. In returning from death's country, Daddy would force his son to face his own desire.

Desperately Brick attempts to dodge him, emptying his words of all significance. As he tells Daddy, their talks never materialize and nothing is said. When Daddy presses him, Brick reveals why he yearns for "solid quiet," and why he would deny that their talks take place anywhere or refer to anything: it is because they are "painful." Turning from his desire, Brick has abandoned the world behind a screen of liquor. He is reduced to the daily, mechanical search for his click that gives him peace.

Ultimately Brick attempts to flee to keep his cool. Daddy makes him stay, wrenching his crutch from under his leg, forcing him to feel pain. As in Act I, the screeching child functions to instantiate the revelation of the repressed. Here Daddy assumes terrifying proportions and the film version of this scene is particular striking in this respect. Daddy would make Brick face the desire that compromises him in his impenetrability, the desire that unmans him. Brick's second crippling at Daddy's hands symbolizes his castration. As we will see, Daddy's move is not only a call to judgment but narcissistically motivated as well: he is crippling his rival.

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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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