Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
by Tennessee Williams
Analysis: What's Up With the Title?
We don't know about you, but for some reason, this title conjures up images of cats and heat – don't ask us why. Before we even start reading, or watching, we know this play is going to be hot and it's going to make us uneasy. If we were a cat, we'd probably want to be on a roof away from humans and life at large, just biding our time in perfect cat privacy. But if we were a cat on a hot tin roof, we'd probably know that tin is metal and metal conducts heat better than just about anything out there – even better than foil-wrapped chicken. So if we were that cat, on that hot tin roof, then it wouldn't be crazy to assume that our little cat feet would get burned pretty quickly. In fact, we'd probably want to jump off that roof fast.
Cats, cats, cats. As you might imagine, they feature largely in this play. In fact, Maggie is often referred to as Maggie the Cat. Whoa, that's some tricky title-character-symbolism stuff. It's almost as though Tennessee Williams would like us to associate Maggie with a...cat? Well, could it be that Maggie is the cat on that tin roof? And this "tin roof" is her marriage to Brick. She proclaims to Brick, "I feel all the time like a cat on a hot tin roof." And Brick replies, "then jump off." Their marriage is hot, because it is full of anger, hatred, and argument incited by Brick, and it is full of Maggie's lust and, to put it mildly, sexual frustration.
Their marriage is like tin because it conducts heat from the ensuing emotion-firestorms. This roof of a marriage is also tin-like because it is flimsy, and it does not protect or cover the "house," or truths, beneath it. We think it's slightly akin to packing an entire Thanksgiving dinner, replete with drumsticks and pumpkin pie, into a Tupperware container, and trying to close the lid securely. We know that Maggie and Brick's marriage is basically a lie, because Brick doesn't really love Maggie and Maggie has basically made Brick marry her – it's kind of a flimsy union if you catch our drift. Also, tin roofs seem far, far away from the opulent Pollitt mansion, and they remind us of the bleak poverty away from which Maggie runs. Cats are also widely known to have nine lives, meaning they're tough cookies.
Tennessee Williams sure does like to compare his characters to animals. The children are monsters, Big Daddy is a wolf, Brick swings like a monkey on his crutch, and Maggie and Mae fight like cats. We open this play with the sound of an overheated hissing cat, whose claws are digging into a hot roof made of tin, which contains something (but what?!) below. All senses are at the ready. Ten hut.