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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Tennessee Williams

Act II: Part three

Act II: Part Two

Act II: Part four

Summary

Daddy makes the prostrate Brick a deal: he will give him a drink if he explains his drinking. "DISGUST!" Brick exclaims. Daddy will not budge until Brick tells him with what. "Mendacity," Brick replies. The children scream for Daddy, and Gooper appears, and Daddy orders them out.

Snatching back his drink, Daddy insists that Brick elaborate, asking what he knows about mendacity. He could write a book about it, about his marriage, his pretending to love Gooper, Mae, and their "screechers," church, business clubs, and so on. There is nothing else to live with but mendacity. Brick rejoins that he can live with liquor.

Daddy continues and says that when he thought he was dying, he could not decide between leaving the place to Gooper and Mae or subsidizing Brick's rot. Brick replies that he doesn't care, and moves toward the gallery. Daddy commands him to stop and says that there has always been something left unspoken between them. Though they have never talked, they have never lied to each other, and they must talk now.

Daddy asks if it has always been liquor alone that killed Brick's disgust. Evasively Brick replies that believing once did. He quit sportscasting because he could not stand being washed-up, and time outran him.

Daddy knows that Brick is passing the buck onto time and disgust and mendacity, and that he started drinking when Skipper died. Brick starts, his calm broken, and asks what Daddy is suggesting. Daddy attempts to calm his son; Gooper and Mae told him there was something abnormal in their friendship. Daddy explains that he himself "knocked around" in his time in hobo jungles and flophouses.

Brick indignantly asks if he thinks he is a queer. He asks if that was why Daddy put him in the former plantation owners', Straw and Ochello, room. Reverend Tooker appears looking for the bathroom and Daddy orders him out. He tells Brick he understands and that Ochello stopped eating when Straw died just like Brick took to drinking after Skipper. Brick explodes: "YOU THINK SO, TOO? You think me an'Skipper did, did, did!—sodomy!—together?" Brick pitches over, and Daddy helps him up with concern.

Brick continues and asks whether Daddy knows how people feel about such things. Brick explains how a fraternity chased a boy off the campus after discovering him and he ran all the way to North Africa. Daddy replies that he has come from "death's country" and is not easily shocked. Exhausted, he asks why Skipper cracked up.

Brick decides to settle the score, to exchange one "inadmissible thing" for another. He insists that his friendship with Skipper was real, deep, clean, and true until Maggie got the idea Daddy is talking about. Skipper and he kept up their game for one season after college. Then Maggie "laid down the law" and forced him to marry. She went on road with the Dixie Starts, making a show of being the team wife. Upon Brick's back injury, she jealously wormed her way between the two men. Maggie and Brick were never closer than "two cats on a—fence humping." She put this idea into Skipper's head, and he became a lush and died.

Analysis

With Brick at his feet, Daddy continues to demand the truth. Their bargain leads to Brick's own "recitative," his own account of what ensued between Maggie, Skipper, and himself.

First, however, Brick attempts another dodge, a feint that Daddy must elucidate. He attributes his drinking to his disgust for the mendacity. Daddy has every reason to suspect his son of passing the buck as he uttered the same lines a few moments earlier in his lecture to Big Mama. Brick's declaration is an example of empty speech, speech that would put its listener off the track of his desire. As we will see, Daddy will appear to make sense of Brick's proclamation of disgust at the end of his tale but in a way that strangely seems to refer to his own state of affairs.

Brick crumbles once again upon the second revelation of homosexual desire in his friendship with Skipper. In erupting violently at Daddy, Brick "doth protest too much." His horror at the thought of being identified with the litany of epithets that he recites, his disgust at the gossipmongers about him, only points to a fear that they might be true. Brick's desire is either utterly unspeakable or only in epithets ("Fairies") that would ward off, but nevertheless reveal his guilt. The incongruous but perfectly timed interruption of Reverend Tooker marks the presence of a lie of conventional morality, a lie that Brick, the darling child of this conventional world, has repeated to lethal consequences.

Thus, even in admitting his love for Skipper, Brick would still make it the stuff of legend: good, true, and completely asexual. Though he had sex with Maggie, they were than two cats humping on a fence, and he and Skipper shared a higher love. In Brick's fantasy, Maggie is to blame for Skipper's ruin, and the conniving Maggie is the scapegoat. She planted the idea of sodomy in poor Skipper's head. She led him to sleep with her. She caused his death. Note here the ambiguity in Brick's confession of jealousy at Skipper and Maggie pairing off, and that it remains unclear which of the two he covets.

Daddy, however, will not allow his son to pass the buck. As discussed above, he has returned from "death's country" and has no qualms confronting Brick with his homosexual desire. Indeed, Daddy almost suggests that he understands his son all too well since he "knocked around" himself in the old days. In this respect his spastic colon seems somewhat over determined. Brick is heir to a tradition to perverse fathers, a tradition that begins from Straw and Ochello onward, a tradition from which the women are excluded, desperately wanting men who would have nothing to do with them. Brick's disgust for his "family history" is clear. Incidentally, it is not for nothing that the conservative film version of Cat replaces Straw and Ochello with a fondly remembered grandfather.

Already we have noted the narcissistic relation between Brick and Daddy. Williams underscores the strange face-off happening between them. As the stage notes indicate, in delivering his recitative, Brick has decided to match the revelation of his "inadmissible thing" with that of Daddy's.

Finally we should also note that Williams warns us against drawing "pat" conclusions, namely, that Brick's problem is that he is a repressed homosexual. Here Williams does not "back off" from homosexuality. The play is quite explicit—but cautions us from immediately fixing Brick as a closet case.

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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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