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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Tennessee Williams

Act IV: Part two

Act III: Part one

Important Quotations Explained

Summary

Maggie moves to the center of the room and announces that she and Brick are to have a child. Sobbing, Mama flees jubilantly to tell Big Daddy; the responsibilities of fatherhood are sure to straighten him out. Maggie whispers something to Brick and pours him a drink.

Mae accuses Maggie of lying. She and Gooper press her for the name of the gynecologist. Mae begins to declare that she cannot conceive by a man who will not sleep with her unless she thinks something, but Brick turns on the phonograph, cutting her off. A cry of agony and rage fills the house. Maggie turns the phonograph to a whisper. Mae and Gooper exit to watch Daddy's suffering.

Maggie thanks Brick for saving her face. He replies that he has yet to get his click and asks her to put his pillow on the sofa. Maggie refuses, as she has put it on the bed. Brick puts down three shots and finds his click. Infinitely grateful, he exits onto the gallery. Maggie clutches the pillow forlornly and, upon some hesitation, gathers Brick's liquor bottles and runs out of the room.

Brick reappears. Turning out the lights, Maggie declares that now that he is a drunk, she is stronger than him and can love him more truly. It is her time to conceive. She has locked up his liquor and won't release it until he has sated her. Brick reaches for his crutch, and Maggie tosses it over the gallery rail.

Suddenly Mama bursts in sobbing. Maggie gives her the package of morphine. Brick turns from Mama's kisses. She rushes out.

Brick has nothing to say to Maggie's proposition. Maggie cries that people who give up only want someone to take hold of them with love. She loves him. Smiling with charming sadness, Brick replies: "Wouldn't it be funny if that was true?"

Analysis

As noted above, Mama invests her hopes in Brick fulfilling Big Daddy's dream and becoming a family man. The responsibilities of fatherhood would somehow stop his drinking, and the estate could go to the rightful heir. The idyllic fantasy of the family restored, however, is yet another of the play's many lies. This lie belongs to Maggie, who invents the coming of a child.

In face of all she knows, Big Mama, clinging to her family, desperately fixates on her lie, running to Big Daddy to tell him his dream has been fulfilled. Its announcement and Maggie's attempt to realize it take place against the bellows of the dying Daddy. Mama second entrance for the morphine underlines the horrible agony that takes place in the adjoining rooms, an agony that takes place under Mae and Gooper's sadistic gaze.

In making this lie, Maggie would assuage the dying Big Daddy and assure her and Brick's place in the household. At best it would only temporarily keep Mae and Gooper at bay. Brick, moreover, appears as untouchable as ever. His decision to not protest Maggie's lie rests less in a desire to save Maggie's face than in his resignation. Brick is bent on finding his click alone. Having finally found it, he strolls peacefully from the room, leaving Maggie in her solitude. Note here the wonderfully maudlin image of Maggie clutching her pillow in misery.

Here Maggie becomes her most desperate, bribing her husband with liquor to conceive a child. Brick has nothing to say. He can only repeating sadly Big Daddy's bitter line—"Wouldn't it be funny if that was true?"—when Maggie professes that she loves him and that he wants his love. Brick remains a broken man, deep in mourning for his beloved Skipper, wracked with guilt over his friend's death and the unspeakable desire between them, disgusted by his inability to confront their love. He has withdrawn depressively from the world.

Earlier we noted Cat's affinities with conventional melodrama, a genre consisting of stock characters and soap operatic plots that hinge on romantic intrigue and end in the restoration of the happy home. Though making use of melodrama's high emotionalism, exhilarating histrionics, and other devices often considered to be in "bad taste," Cat's rather dismal ending, involving the total demystification of the family, makes its departure from this genre clear.

In this respect, subsequent Cats diverge sharply from its original version, particularly its reactionary cinematic adaptation. MGM's Cat shows a Brick reformed through a more extended, and rather trite, heart-to-heart with Big Daddy. The script of the version of Cat first premiered, which was revised in collaboration with director Elia Kazan, also leans toward a more conventional resolution, though hardly to the extent of its Hollywood counterpart.

A brief contrast of the play and film draw out the relative radicalism of Cat's denouement. Though in many ways Williams's text continues to assert itself in spite of the revisions. In the central dialogue between Brick and Daddy, Brick's drinking comes to rest not in his love for Skipper but in a vague, pop-psychological notion of "emotional immaturity," or a refusal to grow up. In turn, Brick teaches Daddy that he has spent his life invested in accumulating things and never loved people enough. Upon this conversation, he presents himself as Daddy's rightful heir and husband to Maggie anew, authoritatively ordering her upstairs so they can make love. Gooper restrains Mae and respectfully withdraws from the scene. Thus the restoration of family and marriage, sealed by the promise of a son, resolves the play. The lie of conventional mores is what makes the Hollywood ending possible.

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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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