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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Tennessee Williams

Act I: Part one

Summary Act I: Part one

Maggie asks if Brick was thinking of Skipper when he was looking at her a moment ago. Brick takes a quick drink and dries his hair. Maggie refuses to follow the "laws of silence," because in silence, things fester, become malignant. Brick drops his crutch, and Maggie offers her shoulder. With sudden lightning, he demands his crutch. Maggie smirks at the crack in Brick's composure. He coolly replies that he just hasn't gotten drunk enough to get the click in his head that lets him feel peaceful.

Analysis

Cat begins with a scenario familiar to Williams's readers, presenting a hysterical, dissatisfied woman who prostrates herself before a man.

Against the indifferent Brick, the frantic Maggie is the image of a woman falling to pieces. Note in particular how Williams emphasizes Maggie's relation to the image of femininity throughout Act I. Here she appears changing her clothes, posing before the mirror, and preparing herself for the party. She is at her most seductive and most vulnerable, utterly unable to lure her husband's desire. His gaze of disgust freezes her in the glass—note Williams's use of the pause here—and precipitates her "hideous transformation" into "Maggie the Cat."

As the woman in the mirror, Maggie becomes the most fascinating character of the play. Williams indicates that she holds the audiences transfixed. Her frustrated desire drives the act forward. Indeed, the exhilaration of Williams's dramaturgy so often lies in the force of the audience's identification with heroines like Maggie, women desperate in their sense of lack, women masochistically bound to men who do not want them for reasons, women who would appear all the more beautiful in their envy, longing, and dispossession. As she tells Brick, if he was to never make love to her again, she would stab herself in the heart.

Maggie's dispossession also lies not only in her husband's indifference but in her childlessness as well. Certainly her childlessness calls her status as wife, and "normal" woman, into question. Without a child, her and Brick's place in Big Daddy's household is not secure. This crisis is immediately precipitated by Daddy's imminent death. The child here functions entirely to assure their bid as Daddy's rightful heirs.

The question of childlessness underpins Maggie's bitter rivalry with her and Brick foils or doubles: Mae and Gooper. Within Cat then, fertility, the family, and, to some extent, the mother, will appear hilariously grotesque. Mae and Gooper have spawned a litter of "no-necked monsters" fit for the county fair.