Manliness and Homosexuality
Like many of Williams's works, Cat concerns itself with the elaboration of a certain fantasy of broken manliness, in this case a manliness left crippled by the homosexual desire it must keep in abeyance.
Brick is Cat's broken man. The favorite son and longed-for lover of a wealthy plantation family, he possesses the charm of those who have given up and assumed a pose of indifference before the world. Brick—a "brick" of a man—embodies an almost archetypal masculinity. Brick's "enviable coolness," however, is the coolness of repression, a repression that keeps his desires at bay. Brick is an alcoholic who cannot avow the desire in his relationship with his dead friend Skipper. Turning from his desire, he has depressively distanced himself from the world with a screen of liquor. He is reduced to the daily, mechanical search for his click that gives him peace.
Brick mourns his love for Skipper, a love imagined in almost mythic dimensions. For Brick, it is the only true and good thing in his life. His mourning is made all the more difficult by the desire he cannot avow. As Maggie notes, theirs is a love that dare not speak its name, a love that could not be satisfied or discussed. Thus Daddy, assuming the position of judge, will force Brick to confront this love. Brick's attempts at dodging him are crucial to the way the play imagines manliness. As Daddy approaches what has been tenuously repressed, Brick empties his words of all significance. As he tells Daddy, their talks never "materialize" and nothing is really said. When Daddy presses him, Brick reveals why he yearns for "solid quiet."
Ultimately the revelation of the desire in his friendship with Skipper cracks Brick's cool. His horror at the thought of being identified with the litany of epithets that he recites ("Fairies"), his disgust at the gossipmongers about him, only points to a fear that they might be true.
As Brick pronounces to Big Daddy, mendacity is the system in which men live. Mendacity here refers to the mores that keep what Williams's dubs the "inadmissible thing" that is repressed at all costs. The two primary objects of repression in Cat are Brick's homosexual desires and Daddy's imminent death. After the men are forced to confront these secrets, Mama will desperately invest all her future hopes in the dream of Brick becoming a family man. The responsibilities of fatherhood would somehow stop his drinking, the estate could go to the rightful heir, and the perpetuation of the family line through Brick is Daddy's immortality. The idyllic fantasy of the family restored, however, is yet another of the play's lies or Maggie's invention of a coming child.
The Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
The cat refers to a particular fantasy of femininity and feminine desire. The play's primary cat is Maggie, a typically hysterical, dissatisfied Williams heroine who prostrates herself before Brick. Maggie's loneliness has made her a "cat," hard, anxious, and bitter. The exhilaration of Williams's dramaturgy lies in the force of the audience's identification with this heroine, a woman desperate in her sense of lack, masochistically bound to man who does not want her, and made all the more beautiful in her envy, longing, and dispossession.
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