What is the significance of the play's title?
The "cat on a hot tin roof" refers to a particular fantasy of femininity and feminine desire familiar to Williams's readers. The play's primary cat is Maggie, a hysterical, dissatisfied heroine who prostrates herself before a "brick" of a man. She jitters on her hot roof, ever uncertain of if she can stay on. Maggie's loneliness, a loneliness that lies in Brick's refusal to recognize her desire, has made her a cat—hard, nervous, and bitchy. The exhilaration of Williams's dramaturgy largely lies in the force of the audience's identification with his gorgeous heroine—a heroine desperate in her sense of lack, a heroine bound to a man who do not want her, a heroine who would appear all the more beautiful in her envy, longing, and dispossession.
What is Maggie's role in the triangle she shares with Brick and Skipper?
Maggie sketches the triangle between Brick and Skipper in her recitation in Act I. As this recitation makes clear, the only true love in Brick's life lies between he and his friend Skipper. Maggie has spent her life accompanying the two football heroes for the benefit of the public—she has been the consummate trophy wife.
In contrast, Brick and Skipper's love assumes almost mythic dimensions. As Maggie relates, it was the stuff of Greek legend. For Brick, it remains the only true and good thing in his life. As Maggie notes, however, theirs was a love that dare not speak its name, a love that could not be satisfied or discussed. Brick's refusal to acknowledge this love led to Skipper's death.
Thus, in a strange shift in the triangle, Maggie and Skipper find themselves aligned in their longing for a man they both cannot have. Much to the jealous Brick's dismay, they pair off upon his hospitalization for a back injury. Note the ambiguity in Brick's confession of jealousy: it remains unclear which of the two he covets. Ultimately Maggie betrays the triangle's laws of silence and demands that Skipper either leave Brick alone with her or let him confess his desire. The two then sleep together to dream that Brick is theirs.
The final turn of the triangle excludes Maggie anew. Upon Skipper's death, Brick falls into mourning, withdrawing from the world in grief. His mourning is made all the more difficult by a desire he cannot avow. The dead man continues to intervene between husband and wife, and Maggie's protests that she is alive are in vain. Indeed, for Brick, Maggie's only place is as scapegoat. Maggie is to blame for disrupting the initial triangle and causing Skipper's ruin. She planted the idea of sodomy in poor Skipper's head. She led him to sleep with her. She ultimately caused his death.
Compare and contrast the endings of Williams' original Cat and the Cat produced for the big screen.
Cat borrows greatly from 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, Cat's cinematic adaptation diverges sharply from its original version.
At the end of the play, Mama invests all her future 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, and is yet another of the play's lies. This lie belongs to Maggie, who invents her pregnancy. Here, Maggie becomes her most desperate, bribing her husband with liquor to conceive a child. Brick has nothing to say in return, remaining 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.
In contrast to this rather dismal ending, MGM's Cat shows a Brick reformed through a more extended, and rather trite, heart-to-heart with Big Daddy. Though in many ways Williams's text continues to assert itself in spite of the revisions, Brick's drinking comes to rest not in his love for Skipper but in his refusal to grow up and accept responsibility. 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, 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.