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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Tennessee Williams

Act II: Part four

Act II: Part three

Act III: Part one

Summary

Daddy knows that Brick's story is "half-assed" and wonders he has left out. A phone rings in the hall. Glancing toward the sound, Brick confesses that Skipper made a drunken confession to him over the phone, and Brick hung up on him. They never spoke again. Daddy has his answer, that Brick's disgust with mendacity is disgust with himself. He dug his friend's grave before he would face the truth.

Brick challenges Daddy and asks whether he can face the truth. What about the birthday congratulations when everyone knows there will not be any more. Whoever has answered the phone laughs shrilly, "No, no, you got it all wrong! Upside down! Are you crazy?"

Realizing his disclosure, Brick attempts to get Daddy to join the party. Daddy grabs his crutch as if it were a "weapon for which they were fighting for possession." He orders Brick to finish what he was saying. Brick asks that he leave the place to Mae and Gooper. Everyone has lied to him: he has cancer. "Mendacity is a system that we live in," declares Brick. "Liquor is one way out an'death's the other." He swings out the gallery door.

Hoarsely Daddy calls for Brick. He reappears and apologies. He no longer understands how anyone could care about anything but liquor. Perhaps being "almost not alive" makes him "accidentally truthful." "You told me! I told you!" he declares.

A child bursts in with a fistful of firecrackers screaming "Bang!" repeatedly. Revolted, Daddy curses the liars about him, all "lying dying liars." He moves out; a child is slapped in the hall and bawls hideously.

Analysis

Here Daddy finally forces Brick's confession and receives his own "inadmissible thing" in return. This showdown reveals the nature of the love between them.

Williams's precipitates Brick's revelation through a device introduced earlier, the off-stage telephone. Here the phone call is a call from the dead, evoking Skipper's final confession to his friend. As Brick confesses, he refused him. Thus Daddy delivers his final diagnosis, that Brick is disgusted with his own mendacity. He dug his friend's grave rather than face the truth, a truth that even now Brick would assign exclusively to Skipper.

While Daddy's diagnosis rings true, it also sounds suspiciously familiar. In some sense, it is almost one of those pat conclusions against which Williams warns in the stage notes. Though Daddy certainly plays judge here, he does not speak from an "objective" position, from the position according to which we can determine the "moral" of the play. His diagnosis is also implicated in the psychological drama unfolding before us. It does not speak from some place outside the play, commenting impartially on the action.

Thus note how Daddy's diagnosis strangely repeats his own remark to himself in Act II, where he murmurs in disgust over the mendacity in his staying with Big Mama for forty years. Here he projects this disgust onto his son:"You!" he cries accusingly. Already we have noted the numerous manifestations of Daddy's narcissistic investment in his son. Their final exchange makes explicit the men's mirror relation and particular through the complementary interplay of the "you"s and "me"s they find themselves screaming throughout this scene.

Thus Brick matches the revelation of his repressed desire with that of Daddy's death. Here the telephone almost embodies and voices Daddy's inner protest: "no, no, you got it all wrong! Upside down! Are you crazy?" The screeching child interrupts anew, both marking the violent revelation of the repressed and symbolizing Daddy's death itself. Daddy bellows in rage, denouncing the "lying dying liars" that surround him. The bawling child serves as another ventriloquism of his anguish.

Thus father and son figure as doubles in their roles as revealer and recipient of the other's inadmissible thing. Like Daddy's sojourn in "death's country," Brick's being "almost not alive" makes him "accidentally truthful." They present themselves as the only ones in the cast who have never lied to each other. Both stand on polar limits of the system of mendacity that is life. Note here how Brick's pronouncement on mendacity also echoes Daddy's, Brick being the drunkard and Daddy the dead man.

In telling Daddy of his death, Brick has staged a reversal, turned things "upside down," and now Daddy stands in the place he just occupied. It is a violent act, robbing Daddy of his second life. As Brick almost gratuitously declares upon his second exit, emphasizing the duality of the exchange that has just ensued: "You told me! I told you!"

As the stage notes indicate, their contest, a contest over exacting the revelation of the other's secret as well as the other's affirmation of the repressed, is symbolized by their struggle over Brick's phallic crutch. The crutch is a "weapon for which they were fighting for possession." No longer Brick's support, it appears as the means by which the men would do injury to each other.

Brick and Daddy's final struggle thus marks the reverse side of the narcissistic love between them, the aggressive logic of "either you go or I go" between those who mirror each other too closely. Note in this respect Daddy's desperate response of Brick's revelation. Brick will certainly outlive him and he will have to pay for his coffin.

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