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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

by Tennessee Williams

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Act I Summary

  • The curtain rises, and a pretty young woman walks on stage.
  • We are in a bedroom of the Pollitt mansion, which is on a cotton plantation in Mississippi, and a scary place haunted by ghosts.
  • The young woman, Margaret, begins undressing because "the no-neck monsters," or her five nieces and nephews, have spilled something on her dress.
  • She relays the story to her husband, Brick, who has just gotten out of the shower.
  • Maggie, as Brick likes to call her, goes into greater detail about the no-neck monsters. She says that their parents, Brick's brother and sister-in-law, have brought all five of them to the family plantation to show them off to Big Daddy and Big Mama (Brick's parents) in the hopes that their family will appear to be more promising inheritors of Big Daddy's land and wealth than Brick and Maggie, who are childless. Or so Brick's brother hopes…
  • Maggie tells Brick that a report has come today from Big Daddy's doctor confirming that Big Daddy has cancer. She insinuates that Brick's brother and sister-in-law, Gooper and Mae Pollitt, are out to proclaim Brick an alcoholic and Maggie a barren woman who cannot satisfy her husband. Ouch.
  • She blames Brick for ruining their chances of getting a piece of the inheritance through his drinking and reckless behavior.
  • We learn that Brick was out the night before jumping hurdles on his old high school track field while drunk and broke his ankle.
  • Maggie surmises, however, that nothing can shake Big Daddy's love of Brick, and describes how Big Daddy can't stand the grandchildren.
  • Maggie goes on and on about the no-neck monsters, and about Mae Pollitt's family background.
  • She is practically talking to herself, until she catches Brick looking at her funny.
  • She asks him what he thinks of when he looks at her like that, because she's caught him looking at her like that before.
  • She tells him that living with someone can be the loneliest thing on the planet, and he asks her if she would like to live alone.
  • This startles Maggie, so she does what she does best: she keeps talking.
  • She talks about how handsome Brick is, and then she drops the bomb. She says the "s" word. No, not that word. She brings up Skipper.
  • This makes Brick very quiet, and we feel a little awkward too, especially because we don't know who Skipper is.
  • So Maggie keeps on talking about what a good, but indifferent, lover Brick used to be (OK…now we feel really awkward), and about how she feels like she is a cat on a hot tin roof, just trying to stay on.
  • She tries to get Brick to talk about the memory of Skipper, but he just replies by pouring himself more drinks. He tells her he's waiting for the "click of peacefulness" to come into his mind.
  • Maggie reminds him it's Big Daddy's birthday and asks him to sign a card for a present she bought for Big Daddy.
  • Brick says he won't.
  • She coaxes him further, and then Brick brings up the "conditions" of their marriage.
  • Before we can learn more about these conditions, Mae Pollitt asks to come into their room.
  • What follows is catty banter between the two women, in which Mae asks Maggie to put her archery trophy away so that the kiddies don't get hurt.
  • Maggie asks Mae why she gave all of her children dogs' names. Fightin' words!
  • Then Mae returns to the no-neck monsters, who are performing for their grandparents downstairs.
  • Maggie asks Brick to get dressed for the party, and he says he'll wear his white silk pajamas.
  • Then Maggie gets emotional again and the "conditions" are brought up again.
  • She tells him again she feels like a cat on a hot tin roof, and Brick tells her to jump off the roof then, since cats do it all the time with their creepy limber cat legs.
  • Speaking of limber legs, he tells her to take a lover, and that's when we realize what the "conditions" are. Brick has agreed to stay married to Maggie as long as they don't have sex, and Maggie is going crazy with lust. The hot tin roof must be their marriage, and Maggie is the cat. Maggie the Cat.
  • Then Maggie locks the door, closes the drapes, and begins to rub up on Brick, who breaks away from her and raises a chair like he's going to strike her (but it looks to us from the audience like a lion-tamer taming a lion).
  • Next thing we know, Big Mama is at the door trying to get in.
  • She is complaining about the locked doors, because she hates locked doors. She demands to be let in.
  • Maggie lets her in, while Brick makes a bee-line for the bathroom.
  • Big Mama in the meantime has snuck around to the gallery through another bedroom and enters the room that way.
  • She asks Maggie why she's changed her dress, and when Maggie explains that it's because of the no-neck monsters, Big Mama tells her she must not like children.
  • Au contraire, Maggie rebuts.
  • Big Mama tells her that she should have some babies then.
  • Gooper intercepts from downstairs to tell Big Mama that the guests are leaving.
  • Big Mama tells them to hold their horses.
  • She then talks to Brick through the closed bathroom door, telling him that the full report about Big Daddy's sickness came from the doctor today and that nothing is wrong with him, except that he has a spastic colon (also known as irritable bowel syndrome).
  • She tells Brick and Maggie that she was so happy when she got the news that she fell on her knees and bruised them, which she shows us too by pulling up her skirt.
  • More commotion from downstairs as people are leaving.
  • Big Mama shouts down to Gooper to continue holding the aforementioned horses.
  • She tells Brick to get dressed because everyone will be coming up to his room, on account of his broken ankle, to celebrate Big Daddy's birthday.
  • Big Mama asks Maggie how Brick's ankle is doing, and Maggie tells her she'll have to ask Brick herself.
  • The phone rings in the hall, and Big Mama rushes out to tell Miss Sally of Memphis that Big Daddy simply has a spastic colon.
  • She can't hear Miss Sally very well, so she asks Maggie to come speak to Miss Sally.
  • Maggie does, speaking very slowly, loudly, and carefully, and hanging up before Miss Sally has finished the conversation.
  • Maggie explains that she used to have a deaf aunt and got good at enunciating so that her aunt would understand her. But when this certain aunt died, magazine subscriptions were all Maggie inherited.
  • Meanwhile, Big Mama is straightening up the room for the party and commenting on the fact that Miss Sally is always out for something.
  • Then she asks Maggie through hand gestures whether Brick has been drinking, but Maggie pretends not to understand her.
  • Then Big Mama tells her that some people stop drinking when they get married and others start drinking when they get married.
  • Maggie protests this as an unfair claim, and Big Mama asks her whether she makes Brick happy in bed.
  • Maggie retorts by asking Big Mama why she's not interested in knowing whether Brick makes her happy in bed.
  • Big Mama proclaims that something's not right since Maggie is childless and Brick is an alcoholic.
  • She points to the bed, saying that it's the place where all marriage trouble begins.
  • She quickly exits the room before Maggie can refute this claim. Maggie then catches a glimpse of herself in the oval mirror and asks herself, "Who are you?" (I.740); she then replies, "I am Maggie the Cat!" (I.743).
  • Brick comes out of the bathroom once the coast is clear and goes straight for the liquor cabinet.
  • Maggie brings up their sex life again, and tells him that she's maintaining her good looks in the hopes that they'll one day get it on once more.
  • She then starts to enumerate the ways in which her body has stayed young and attractive, and she tells Brick that other men still want her.
  • She says that last week in Memphis, she was turning heads everywhere she went.
  • At her friend Alice's party, the handsomest man in the crowd followed her into the powder room and wanted to get busy right then and there.
  • Brick just asks her why she didn't let the man have his way with her.
  • Maggie says she wouldn't be so stupid as to take a lover in such a public place; that if she were to take a lover, it would be in a really private place so that no one could convict her of being unfaithful.
  • Brick then tells her that he'd be relieved if she did take a lover.
  • He suggests that she leave him.
  • But Maggie really doesn't like that idea, and tells Brick that he wouldn't have the money to pay for a divorce and would have to borrow from Big Daddy, who is dying of cancer.
  • This reminds Brick of how Big Mama reported that Big Daddy's ailment was simply a spastic colon.
  • Maggie confirms that they've been keeping the truth of Big Daddy's cancer from both Big Daddy and Big Mama, and that they will all be telling her about it that evening.
  • Brick asks why they've been keeping it from them, and Maggie responds that it's because humans want life everlasting on earth and not in heaven.
  • Then she re-summarizes that Gooper, Mae, and the no-neck monsters are here to bring Daddy his bad news and to secure their share of the inheritance, because, as it happens, Big Daddy has made no will.
  • She then tells Brick that she really admires Big Daddy, in spite of all of his ogre-like behavior, because he managed to turn his cotton plantation into the biggest and finest in the Mississippi Delta.
  • Then she says that she's sorry Big Daddy's dying, but that she also has to stake her claim in his fortune.
  • Taking care of a drunk is an expensive task, and that's the task she's been elected to, she says.
  • Brick says she doesn't have to take care of him.
  • Maggie then launches into a story of her past and her background, telling us that she's been poor all of her life. She tells us she had to suck up to rich relatives as a young girl and that her father drank all of their money away, while her mother tried to maintain some semblance of social propriety. Maggie made her debut into society in a hand-me-down and in a dress her mother had made. She married Brick in her grandmother's wedding dress.
  • She explains that all of these experiences have made her into a cat on a hot tin roof, staying in her marriage despite the discomfort.
  • She's a survivor, she's not gonna give up, she's not gonna stop, she's gonna work harder (thank you, Beyonce).
  • At this point, Brick has moved to the gallery to drink his Echo Spring, and Maggie wonders what to do with herself now that she's all dressed again (apparently she's been putting on clothes and stuff throughout this act).
  • She tells Brick that she knows when she made her mistake: it was when she confessed the "truth" to Brick about her "thing" with Skipper.
  • This gets Brick riled up.
  • He tells her to shut up about Skipper, that she's treading dangerous waters.
  • He tells her she's fooling with something no one should fool with. We're a little in the dark about all this Skipper stuff. For the love of Pete, will SOMEONE spill the beans? What happened with Skipper?
  • Finally, Maggie spills the beans. She tells Brick she has to finish what she started telling him, and tells him that she slept with Skipper. Whaaat?!
  • She says that sleeping together made them both feel a little bit closer to Brick.
  • She accuses Brick of asking too much of all the people that love him, of which there are many, she assures him.
  • Brick tells her that Skipper had already confessed.
  • Maggie asserts that she told him first.
  • Brick gets very frustrated with the banter and shouts to one of the no-neck monsters to tell everyone to come up to the room for the birthday party.
  • Maggie exclaims that the truth has got to be told, and that she understands that it was a beautiful and pure love that could never be carried through to anything, a love that could never be talked about. At this point, we're not quite sure which love she's referring to, but we're pretty sure she's talking about the love that existed between Brick and Skipper.
  • She then pleads with Brick that life should be allowed to continue, even after the dreams are dead and gone. Then she reminisces over college days when they used to double-date with Skipper and his girlfriend, Gladys Fitzgerald.
  • She describes it as more of a date between Brick and Skipper, with the girls just tagging along for the sake of social propriety.
  • At this point, Brick is really mad, and he is about to hit Maggie with his crutch.
  • Maggie doesn't care.
  • Brick accuses her of naming his relationship with Skipper dirty.
  • Maggie retorts that, in fact, she is naming it clean.
  • She says that he and Skipper had something that had to be kept under wraps, and that death was the only place where that would happen.
  • Then Brick feebly asks why he would have married Maggie in the first place if he were (he doesn't finish his sentence here, but we assume he means to say…) gay.
  • She then tells the story of the downward spiral following their wedding.
  • Here's her story: They get married early in the summer, right after graduating from Ole Miss (the University of Mississippi). They are really happy newlyweds throughout that summer, knocking boots and shaking the sheets like crazy.
  • Then, in the fall, Brick and Skipper turn down job offers in order to play professional football together.
  • Then Skipper starts drinking too much, and Brick injures his spinal cord.
  • Brick can't play the Thanksgiving game in Chicago, so he watches it from a hospital bed.
  • The team loses the game because Skipper is drunk.
  • Maggie is there watching the game.
  • She and Skipper go drink that night at a local bar until the sun comes up.
  • When they are drunk, Maggie tells Skipper that he has to either stop loving her husband or tell Brick that he's got to let him (Skipper) admit his love for Brick.
  • Skipper slaps her hard and runs back to his hotel room.
  • That night, she goes to his hotel room, and Skipper sleeps with her in order to prove that what she's suggested isn't true.
  • Despite this, the truth that Maggie had spoken that morning sends Skipper down a deadly path of drugs and alcohol.
  • This ends Maggie's story.
  • At this point, Brick is really upset and raises his crutch at her again.
  • She admits then that she destroyed Skipper by verbalizing a truth that he and society would never recognize or condone.
  • As Brick strikes at her and misses with his crutch, she clarifies that she is not trying to be good, that there is no such thing as a good person.
  • She says the rich can afford to keep up a semblance and a lifestyle of good, but that goodness doesn't exist. She proclaims herself honest.
  • She asks Brick to credit her with honesty, at least.
  • She tells him that though Skipper is dead, she is alive.
  • As she says this, Brick throws his deadly crutch at her again, the force of which makes him fall across the floor. She takes cover behind the bed.
  • In the heat of the moment, one of the no-neck monsters bursts through the unlocked bedroom door and shoots a toy gun at Maggie and Brick, shouting "Bang, bang, bang!" Talk about annoying.
  • From the open door, we hear laughter from the family and guests below. Maggie tells the little girl that someone should teach her some manners.
  • The little girl asks what Brick is doing on the floor.
  • Brick replies that he's trying to kill her aunt, and to please pass him his crutch.
  • Maggie explains to the little girl that her uncle is crippled and broke his ankle while jumping hurdles the night before.
  • The little girl asks why Brick was hurdling, and Brick responds that he used to love jumping hurdles and people like to do what they used to do, even if they can no longer do it. There is subtext here, but we're not quite sure what it is.
  • Maggie is annoyed with the little girl's questions. She calls her "little girl," instead of by name.
  • She tells Little Girl to go away, and Little Girl starts shooting her toy gun at Maggie.
  • Maggie calls her a no-neck monster – to her face!
  • Then the little girl really steps in it. She tells her aunt that she knows she's just jealous because she can't have babies. Of all the insults in the world, Little Girl, and you choose that one? You are a little twerp. Wait, are we defending Maggie? Do we like Maggie? Whoa.
  • Once Twerp leaves, Maggie tells Brick that she's been to a gynecologist and that she is perfectly capable of having babies.
  • Brick asks her how she is going to have a baby by a man that can't stand her. Touché. The man does have point. Ouch.
  • Maggie just says that's a problem she'll have to work out, and then she turns to greet the encroaching birthday party.
  • Act I ends. Wow. We need a vacation.

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