Study Guide

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Quotes

  • Truth

    MARGARET
    Hell, do they ever know it? Nobody says, "You're dying." You have to fool them. They have to fool themselves.(I.25-26)

    Maggie seems to be the master of manipulation. She seems to know what it takes to get through ordeals: this, according to her, is achieved by swimming in denial.

    MARGARET
    But tonight they're going to tell her the truth about it. When Big Daddy goes to bed, they're going to tell her that he is dying of cancer […] –it's malignant and it's terminal. (I.819-823)

    It's interesting that they don't tell Big Daddy the truth right away. Everyone wants to put on a good show before he hears the news.

    MARGARET
    Yes, I made my mistake when I told you the truth about that thing with Skipper. Never should have confessed it, a fatal error, tellin' you about that thing with Skipper. (I.919-922)

    Maggie again seems to feel like truth-telling is a destructive thing, and far worse than lying.

    MARGARET
    In this way I destroyed him, by telling him truth that he and his world which he was born and raised in, yours and his world, had told him could not be told? (I.59.1126-1128)]

    Maggie has seen the destructive power of truth, its ability to kill. Truth kills when what it reveals lies outside of societal expectations.

    MARGARET
    I'm honest! Give me credit for just that, will you please? (I.1140)

    Maggie isn't entirely honest, though. She's complicit in the lie everyone has told Big Daddy about his spastic colon. She lies about her pregnancy at the end of the play.

    BIG MAMA
    And I did, I did so much, I did love you!—I even loved your hate and your hardness, Big Daddy!
    […]
    BIG DADDY
    Wouldn't it be funny if that was true… (II.364-368)

    It's hard to believe that Big Mama doesn't love Big Daddy, considering the show of affection she demonstrates every time he's around. We never see Big Daddy and Big Mama alone, and so we don't really know them as intimately as we know Brick and Maggie.

    BIG DADDY
    Uh—huh. Expecting death made me blind. I didn't have no idea that a son of mine was turning into a drunkard under my nose. (II.99.816-818)

    Death's momentary release of Big Daddy gives Big Daddy perspective. Big Daddy's flirtation with death makes him want to hunt down the truth.

    BIG DADDY
    Think of all the lies I got to put up with! Ain't that mendacity? Having to pretend stuff you don't think or feel or have any idea of? Having for instance to act like I care for Big Mama!—I haven't been able to stand the sight, sound, or smell of that woman for forty years now!—even when I laid her! (II.108.996-1002)

    Big Daddy is successful and wealthy, but his success and wealth are constructed out of the lies he tells Brick.

    No!—It was too rare to be normal, any true thing between two people is too rare to be normal. (II.121.1271-1272)

    The only true relationship in the play is a memory and no longer exists. Normal, accepted relationships are those built upon lies.

    BRICK
    Maybe it's being alive that makes them lie, and being almost not alive makes me sort of accidentally truthful—I don't know but—anyway—we've been friends…(II.128.1440-1443)

    Here again we see the association between lying and life, as well as between truth and death. It would seem that truth can only be found through death.

    MARGARET
    And so tonight we're going to make the lie true, and when that's done, I'll bring the liquor back here and we'll get drunk together, here, tonight, in this place that death has come into…. (III.165.770-773)

    Maggie wants to find a way to do the impossible: to create truth in a world constructed of lies. If she succeeds, she'll be the only character able to do this.

  • Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    MARGARET
    […] human interest story about a well-known former athlete stagin' a one-man track meet on the Glorious Hill High School athletic field last night, but was slightly out of condition and didn't clear the first hurdle! (I.22.125-128)

    The fact that Brick's attempt on the track field was picked up by local newspapers reveals how much of a superstar Brick once was and confirms local society's deep fascination with and former love of him.

    STAGE DIRECTION
    […] she notices that he is not looking at her but into fading gold space with a troubled expression. (I.24.183-184)

    Williams uses light on the stage to help set the emotional tone for the given moment. Maggie wants Brick to notice her more than almost anything, but he is always far, far away, concerned with the ghost that haunts him and with other, more indefinable things. The "fading gold space" at which Brick looks is ambiguous, but it evokes a fleeting light, and Brick relates to this fleeting light in a "troubled" way. It's as though Brick sees a likeness between the dying of the light and his own mortality and is disturbed by this. Perhaps death is not Brick's desire.

    MARGARET
    Why? Because human beings dream of life everlasting, that's the reason! But most of them want it on earth and not in heaven. (I.52.834-836)

    Maggie is wise and knows what drives humans to want what they want. Because of this, she understands those around her well. This helps her get what she wants.

    BRICK
    Jumping the hurdles, Big Daddy, runnin' and jumpin' the hurdles, but those high hurdles have gotten too high for me, now. (II.74.278-280)

    Instead of running around a track or throwing footballs around on his high school football field, Brick chooses to jump hurdles. It seems strange that he would choose such a difficult task for his drunken self.

    BIG DADDY
    Life is important. There's nothing else to hold onto. A man that drinks is throwing his life away. Don't do it, hold onto your life. There's nothing else to hold onto…. (II.84.496-498)

    Big Daddy tells this as a way of inspiring and motivating Brick, but he also says that life is constructed out of lies. Thus, according to Big Daddy, lies are the only things to hold onto.

    BIG DADDY
    I think the reason he buys everything he can buy is that in the back of his mind he has the crazy hopes that one of his purchases will be life everlasting!—Which it never can be…. (II.89.608-611)

    Big Daddy echoes Maggie's observation about the human desire for life everlasting, something that he himself would kill to have. Unlike Brick, he wants to live and live, even in spite of hating so many elements within his life (Big Mama, his grandchildren, church, clubs, etc.).

    BRICK
    - Something—hasn't—happened….
    BIG DADDY
    Yeah? What is that!
    BRICK [sadly]
    - the click…. (II.97.782-785)

    As Brick flounders in a world stuck between life and death, he searches for a click that will drown out the feelings of guilt for having lived so long with mendacity. The funny thing is, though, that the longer he chases this click, the faster he expedites his own death. The click only arrives when he has enough alcohol in his blood. Instead of fighting to make his lies true, Brick is in a No Man's Land, numbing his guilt.

    BRICK
    Sit in a glass box watching games I can't play? Describing what I can't do while players do it? Sweating out their disgust and confusion in contests I'm not fit for? Drinkin' a coke, half bourbon, so I can stand it? That's no goddamn good any more, no help… (II.113.1095-1099)

    While Brick used to be the hero and athlete, his football injury forced him into the passive role of watching and commenting on others. He says that this new lifestyle is "no help," that it only reveals the lies that sustain him and that once sustained him. He becomes a commentator and thus becomes part of the "society" that once heralded him as a hero-athlete. This comment further reveals how much Brick's self-image is wrapped up in his former athleticism.

    BIG MAMA
    Oh, my, my! This is Big Daddy's dream, his dream come true!
    I'm going to tell him right now before he— (III.158.637-638)

    Big Daddy loves Brick and so, in this way, the news of Brick and Maggie's baby would make him happy. However, in his conversation with Brick, we learn that life everlasting is really what Big Daddy longs for. In this quote, we see Big Mama project a hope onto Big Daddy, shining big spotlights onto the web of lies that forms their relationship and their world. In this way, we see again how little Big Mama and Big Daddy know each other. Big Mama is happy in this moment because, in her eyes, Brick and Maggie are no longer an abnormal, childless couple, but have conformed to the lifestyle that society deems proper.

    MARGARET
    Oh, you weak people, you weak, beautiful people!—who give up.—What you want is someone to—[…]—take hold of you.—Gently, gently, with love! (III.165.776-779)

    Again, we see Maggie's ability to understand people and to perceive their wants and dreams. She positions herself as a pillar of strength here, seeing those around her as weak and beautiful. She has much love for the weaknesses in others.

  • Visions of America

    Notes to the Designer
    […] a monumental monstrosity peculiar to our times, a huge console combination of radio-phonograph (hi-fi with three speakers) TV set and liquor cabinet, bearing and containing many glasses and bottles, all in one piece […] This piece of furniture (?!), this monument, is a very complete and compact little shrine to virtually all the comforts and illusions behind which we hide from such things as the characters in the play are faced with…. (Notes.16.36-47)

    The console is a focal point of the set. Williams makes a point of drawing our attention to it so that we know exactly where it is and what it is. The console contrasts greatly with the history that surrounds it. In a house that is over 100 years old, the console represents modernity and all of the latest technology. It represents a "new" America that is in love with sensory-enticing technology and that is capable of producing multi-functional things. Each of the functions (the TV set, the radio-phonograph, and the alcohol) serves to both drown out reality and to connect the watcher, listener, and drinker to others. By making a point of describing this console, Williams shows us exactly what Americans were interested in during the 1950s.

    STAGE DIRECTION
    A phone is ringing in hall. A Negro voice answers: "Mistuh Polly's res'dence." (I.45.653-654)

    One of the few times we hear the voice of an African-American character, it seems important that the voice is detached from the actual speaker. As an audience, we hear the voice without seeing who speaks it. As a reader, we see the racist stereotype of the manner of speaking demonstrated, and we notice that the "Negro voice" does not belong to a character with a name. Here, this character is naming the owner of the house. In this way, we see the power structure between the Pollitt family and its maids more clearly.

    STAGE DIRECTION
    Negroes in white jackets enter with an enormous birthday cake ablaze with candles and carrying buckets of champagne with satin ribbons about the bottle necks. (I.68.131-133)

    Here we see further one-dimensional, derogatory depictions of African-Americans, and we also see the exorbitant wealth and luxury on which the Pollitt family live. This wealth, taken in conjunction with the fertility we see evidenced by the many children running and around and by the success of the Pollitt plantation, becomes bizarre when juxtaposed with the encroachment of death.

    BIG MAMA
    I can't stand TV, radio was bad enough but TV has gone it one better, I mean […] – one worse, ha ha! (II.66.90-91)

    If the radio connects humans through sound, the TV connects humans through sound and image. Big Mama finds both objects to be negative. Both are tools of society, bringing people together and allowing them to comment on each other. In this way, the radio and TV also aid in the mendacity inherent in society.

    BIG DADDY
    I made this place! I was overseer on it! I was the overseer on the old Straw and Ochello plantation. I quit school at ten! I quit school at ten years old and went to work like a ______ in the fields. And I rose to become overseer of the Straw and Ochello plantation. And old Straw died and I was Ochello's partner and the place got bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger! II.77

    Big Daddy recharts his rags-to-riches story, but this time, he reveals his racism and he positions himself in relation to those he works with in the fields. Because of his privileges as a white man, he is able to move up the societal ladder, to live the American Dream. In this way, we see an exclusivity inherent to the American Dream, and we see perhaps how racism has infected even that Dream. Here, we also see more directly how the wealth and success of the Pollitt family is built upon racism and mendacity.

    BIG DADDY
    I said 'Hold on!'—I bummed, I bummed this country till I was—
    […]
    Slept in hobo jungles and railroad Y's and flophouses in all cities before I—
    […]
    I seen all things and understood a lot of them, till 1910. Christ, the year that—I had worn my shoes through, hocked my—I hopped off a yellow dog freight car half a mile down the road, slept in a wagon of cotton outside the gin—Jack Straw an' Peter Ochello took me in. Hired me to manager this place which grew into this one—When Jack Straw died—why, old Peter Ochello wuit eatin' like a dog does when its master's dad, and died too!" (II.115-117)

    Here, Big Daddy traces his "rags to riches" story, a story that looks a lot like the prototype of the American Dream. He hangs around railyards, stays in boarding houses, and keeps moving until he finds—thanks to the generosity of the plantation's owners—a steady job and a home on a plantation. He works hard until he becomes the owner of the land.

    MAE
    Oh, Big Daddy, the field hands are singin' fo' you! II.127.1425

    Williams evokes a vision of the Old South, a time of slavery and agricultural wealth, on stage in this powerful family drama. The field hands and maids are African-American and, while characters Souky and Lacey have actual names, all others do not. These characters have only a few cursory lines, and stage notes indicate they are often singing or laughing, evoking racist and derogatory images of African Americans that are deeply entrenched in the history and mechanism of slavery and in the African-American experience. By intentionally making these characters one-dimensional, Williams comments on the mendacious, racist, corrupt, and rotten core of the Old South. With the Civil Rights Movement was gaining momentum in the year preceding Cat's premiere and with the South largely losing its agricultural power, the 1952 audience would have been keenly aware of the implications of the racist stereotypes represented in the play.

    MARGARET
    My family freed their slaves ten years before abolition, my great-great grandfather gave his slaves their freedom five years before the war between the States started!
    MAE
    Oh, for God's sakes! Maggie's climbed back up in her family tree! (III.130.17-23)

    Maggie points to specific moments in the Old South's past, and reveals that her family was part of the mechanism of slavery, but also saw fit to defect from this mechanism before the Civil War and its aftermath would force others more corrupt and unenlightened to do so. In this way, Maggie differs from the Pollitt family, whose wealth is built upon the horrors of slavery.

    BIG MAMA [overlapping Margaret]
    Yais, he simply adores it! An' candied yams? That man put away enough food at that table to stuff a ______ field hand! (III.130.40-41)

    Again, we see the persistence of racist ideology and racist language in a family of the mid-20th century. Williams shows us how racism continues to infect society. The Pollitt family is literally cancerous and is falling apart. Williams draws connections between this destruction of family and the rotten human corruption upon which it has been built.

    REVEREND TOOKER
    I think this house is the coolest house in the Delta.—Did you all know that Halsey Banks' widow put air-conditioning units in the church and rectory at Friar's Point in memory of Halsey? (III.133.101-104)

    Here we see the intersection between religion and modern technology. America's love for earthly comfort and ease has reached even the religious circles. It's as though religion is also a bit wonky and misguided. There is no attention given to God or to a higher being in the play. The concern is for the here and the now.

    BIG MAMA
    WHY DIDN'T THEY CUT IT OUT OF HIM? HANH? HANH?
    DOCTOR BAUGH:
    Involved too much, Big Mama, too many organs affected.
    MAE
    Big Mama, the liver's affected and so's the kidneys, both! It's gone way past what they call a—
    GOOPER
    A surgical risk.
    […]
    Yes, it's gone past the knife. (III.141.279-288)

    If the Pollitt family is a microcosm of the Old South, then this cancer in the patriarch of the family can be compared to the corruption, mendacity, and slavery at the heart of the Old South. The cancer affects two vital organs within Big Daddy, both organs designed to protect the human body from toxins. But the cancer cannot be cut out, because it has become part of Big Daddy's body and is killing him. By following this comparison, we understand the death of the Old South and the ways in which racism permeates every aspect of society.

  • Mortality

    MAGGIE
    Hell, do they ever know it? Nobody says, 'You're dying.' You have to fool them. They have to fool themselves. (I.51.126-127)

    Maggie makes a complex point here about how people come to understand their own death. She seems to say it's not enough just to tell someone he is dying. People have to be tricked into reckoning with and understanding this fact. Death complicates things so much that comprehending it takes cunning and sophistication .

    MAGGIE
    It's malignant and it's terminal. (I.51.824)

    With these words, Maggie heralds quite boldly and clearly the unavoidable death to come. Her treatment of death reveals a strong woman who does not fear it, but sees it as a fact of life.

    MAGGIE
    But Brick?!—Skipper is dead! I'm alive! (I.60.1144)

    In a world full of three ghosts, a dying patriarch, a deteriorating family, a crumbling society, and a man hovering between life and death, Maggie is the outsider, and she glows with life. She beckons Brick out of his shadows and tries to help him see how he can live his life with truths instead of lies.

    BIG DADDY
    I been quiet here lately, spoke not a word, just sat and stared into space. I had something heavy weighing on my mind but tonight that load was took off me. That's why I'm talking.--the sky looks diff'rent to me.... (II.616-619)

    Big Daddy can't stop talking about his new-found appreciation for life. The world is transformed before his very eyes, and things like the sky look different to him (though that's not surprising since the sky changes colors more often than an everlasting gobstopper in this play). Big Daddy is very scared of dying. He isn't ready, perhaps because he hasn't found "life everlasting" yet on earth.

    BIG DADDY
    When you are gone from here, boy, you are long gone and no where! [...] Yep. I thought I had it. The earth shook under my foot, the sky come down like the black lid of a kettle and I couldn't breathe!--Today!!--that lid was lifted, I drew my first free breath in--how many years?--God!--three.... (II.862-871)

    It's just a little bit weird that, in a play where things are dying left and right, no one speculates as to what happens after you die. Even the reverend, the spiritual man, and the man that we would usually turn to for guidance in through hard times, is about as shallow as a kiddie pool. He talks about air conditioners and fancy stained glass windows, but that's about all. Here, we catch a glimpse of Big Daddy's understanding of what happens when you die, and it is depressingly bleak. Big Daddy believes nothing happens when you die. You are simply "no where." No wonder everyone's clamoring to stay alive.

    BIG DADDY
    Ignorance—of mortality—is a comfort. A man don't have that comfort, he's the only living thing that conceives of death, that knows what it is. The others go without knowing which is the way that anything living should go, go without knowing, without knowledge of it […] (II.91)

    Big Daddy is obsessed with death. He cripples mentally when trying to understand or cope with his mortality. He fears death and the unknowns it heralds. He is not a man of faith or religion. He lives in the here-and-now and is obsessed with wealth.

    BIG DADDY
    It took the shadow of death to make me see it. Now that shadow's lifted, I'm going to cut loose and have, what is it they call it, have me a—ball! (II.93)

    Death holds a power over characters in the play, forcing them to come to terms with certain truths in their lives. Big Daddy perhaps does not want to confront these truths. The first time he thinks he is going to die, he is so distraught that, when alone with Brick after being told he's going to live, Big Daddy tells him all the truths that his flirtation with death had dredged up: the corruption he saw when traveling through Europe, his experimentation with other men, and his only two loves: Brick and the plantation.

    BRICK
    Maybe that's why you put Maggie and me in this room that was Jack Straw's and Peter Ochello's, in which that pair of old sisters slept in a double bed where both of 'em died! (II.115.1164-1166)

    Here we see just how much death reigns in the Pollitt household, such that Maggie and Brick are staying in the very room where the plantation's ancestors died. The bedroom is therefore the fulcrum of the plantation and the tomb that encloses two dying men. Death permeates everyone and everything throughout the play.

    BIG DADDY
    Well, I have come back from further away than that, I have just now returned from the other side of the moon, death's country, son, and I'm not easy to shock by anything here. (II.120.1250-1252)

    This is the first time we ever hear Big Daddy, or anyone for that matter, discuss the afterlife or what happens after death. That Big Daddy locates death's country on "the other side of the moon" becomes significant when we remember that Brick often sings to the moon throughout the play. We don't know about you, but the moon doesn't seem like such a deathly place. However, at the time of the play's publication, a human would not walk on the moon for another ten years. The moon, therefore, is unknown, foreign, and scary. However, it is also a real place, and not a fantastical or biblical imagining of what death would look like. This perhaps reflects the interest of Americans at the time on science and on space exploration.

    MAGGIE
    […] here, tonight, in this place that death has come into… (III.165.772-773)

    In saying this, Maggie not only recognizes the dying patriarch, but she also reminds us of the fact that Straw and Ochello both died in each other's arms in the very bed where she will sleep with Brick. In this way, Maggie is about to stop the cycle of death and lies.

  • Sexuality and Sexual Identity

    Stage Direction
    […] it is gently and poetically haunted by a relationship that must have involved a tenderness which was uncommon. Notes.15.15-17

    The words 'homosexuality' and 'gay' never appear in this play. The only term used is 'queer.' Williams does not even explicitly state that Ochello and Straw were lovers. He merely describes their relationship as "a tenderness which was uncommon." In this way, Williams is perhaps simultaneously aware of the societal disgust for homosexuality, and is also perhaps honoring Brick's wish to characterize his love with Skipper as clean, by focusing on the true love and friendship at its core and not solely upon the implied sexuality.

    BRICK
    One man has one great good true thing in his life. One great good thing which is true!—I had a friendship with Skipper.—You are naming it dirty! (I.982-985)

    Here, Brick reacts to the sexual implications behind Maggie's discussion of his relationship with Skipper. Brick equates sex and homosexuality with dirtiness and disgust. When presented with Maggie's own sexual advances, Brick is cool, detached, and asexual.

    MARGARET
    You two had something that had to be kept on ice, yes, incorruptible, yes! (I.58.991-992)

    Maggie both draws attention to the sexual nature of Brick and Skipper's relationship, but she also highlights its true and "incorruptible," nature. In this way, Maggie is naming the relationship, making it a reality by speaking about it. She wants Brick to acknowledge the relationship rather than mull over it internally. She also recognizes that, though it needs to be recognized, the relationship "ha[s] to be kept on ice," kept secret from society. She recognizes the fact that it can never fully be extolled.

    MARGARET
    When I came to his room that night, with a little scratch like a shy little mouse at his door, he made that pitiful ineffectual little attempt to prove that what I had said wasn't true…. (I.59.1121-1124)

    Maggie goes to Skipper to sleep with him to both feel closer to Brick and to see if her supposition is right. She is jealous of Brick and Skipper's love.

    BIG DADDY
    - Yes, boy. I'll tell you something that you might not guess. I still have desire for women and this is my sixty-fifth birthday. (II.93.683-685)

    In this moment, we see Big Daddy's highly sexual nature, especially with (falsely) restored life. Here also we are reminded that Big Daddy is the patriarch and thus a representation of potency. His potency is meant to reflect the strength and fertility of the farmland, as well as the continuation of his lineage. However, the lust he expresses here is only a mirage, as the knowledge of his impending death will immobilize him.

    BIG DADDY
    Now, hold on, hold on a minute, son.—I knocked around in my time. (II.115.1155-1156)

    Here is the only instance in which Big Daddy alludes to his days of sexual experimentation with men, as brief and ambiguous as it is. At this moment, Big Daddy does not seem as much the misogynistic, ultra-macho man we know him to be. He reveals his own shifting sexual identity. At this moment, Brick and Big Daddy do not seem so vastly different or so far apart, but we see how both have interpreted their gender roles differently.

    BRICK
    You think so, too? You think so, too? You think me an' Skipper did, did, did!—sodomy!—together? (II.117.1208-1209)

    Brick uses the word, "sodomy," which evokes biblical and legal language. He is deeply concerned with violating any societal codes or values. Brick is outraged at Big Daddy's questions and insinuations and wants to know who exactly is perpetrating such gossip. He is almost obsessed with discovering who exactly believes him to be gay.

    BRICK
    […] Why, at Ole Miss when it was discovered a pledge to our fraternity, Skipper's and mine, did a, attempted to do a, unnatural thing with—
    We not only dropped him like a hot rock—We told him to git off the campus, and he did, he got!—All the way to—
    BIG DADDY
    - Where?
    BRICK
    - North Africa, last I heard! (II.119.1240-1248)

    As Brick relates the hazing and intolerance of a gay fraternity brother, he speaks in vague, fractured sentences and has a hard time getting the words out. This moment is seared into his memory, and it has become almost an allegory for himself. When Big Daddy wants to know where that fraternity brother is now, Brick seems to choose at random the farthest place on earth that he can come up with. The way in which he says, "last I heard," evokes the image of a wandering man, constantly moving away from the intolerance of others. In this moment, we peek into Brick's imagination and see his understanding of the consequences of admitting one's sexual orientation.

    BRICK
    No!—It was too rare to be normal, any true thing between two people is too rare to be normal. (II.121.1271-1273)

    Brick indicts society here, saying that conformity involves lies. His relationship with Skipper was true because it did not obey societal designations of appropriate, normal behavior. At this moment he distances himself from the norms of a society that once loved him so much and that he loves so dearly.

    BRICK
    Why can't exceptional friendship, real, real, deep, deep friendship! Between two men be respected as something clean and decent without being thought of as—
    […]
    - Fairies…. (II.129.1259-1262)

    Brick seems most troubled by the way in which his friendship with Skipper may have compromised his masculinity. The word "Fairies," is a highly charged, effeminate, fantastical term, the very utterance of which is difficult for Brick. Perhaps what troubles Brick most is that he would have to give up an integral part of his identity and personality if he were to admit or profess his love for Skipper.

  • Memory and the Past

    NOTES FOR THE DESIGNER
    It hasn't changed much since it was occupied by the original owners of the place, Jack Straw and Peter Ochello, a pair of old bachelors who shared this room all their lives together. In other words, the room must evoke some ghosts. (I.15.11-17)

    Cat is as much about Straw and Ochello as it is about the Pollitt family. The Pollitts refer to Straw and Ochello almost as though they were ancestors, and the two ghosts haunt the family throughout. They are the proverbial pink elephants in the room in every moment of the play. Williams includes the detail that the house has not changed much over the years. In this way, the memory of the past is alive, vivid, and unavoidable. While the console with its television, radio, and liquor cabinet herald the modern age, this modernity is overpowered by the memory of the past.

    NOTES FOR THE DESIGNER
    This may be irrelevant or unnecessary, but I once saw a reproduction of a faded photograph of the verandah of Robert Louis Stevenson's home on that Samoan Island where he spent his last years, and there was a quality of tender light on weathered wood, such as porch furniture made of bamboo and wicker, exposed to tropical suns and tropical rains […} (NOTES.15.17-23)

    Here we see the many layers and frames of memory. Williams' inspiration for the set of Cat is based on a reproductionof a "faded" photograph of Robert Louis Stevenson's home on a Samoan Island. He is several times removed from the point of inspiration, and we can only assume that he added to, embellished, and recreated his memory of this reproduction as time went on. It is the emotion around "the light on weathered wood" that he remembers and that has stayed with him.

    MARGARET
    When something is festering in your memory or your imagination, laws of silence don't work, it's just like shutting a door and locking it on a house on fire in hope of forgetting that the house is still burning. But not facing a fire doesn't put it out. Silence about a thing just magnifies it. It grows and festers in silence, becomes malignant. (I.31.376-381)

    While the act of remembering and retelling memories can be dangerous for the details that are edited or lost, Maggie reminds us how equally dangerous it is not to articulate memories, especially considering there is so much emotion around them. Here also she draws a direct connection between the memory of Skipper that haunts Brick and the cancer that infects Big Daddy.

    BRICK
    […] Look, Maggie. What you're doing is a dangerous thing to do. You're—you're—you're—foolin' with something that—nobody ought to fool with. (I.55.934-935)

    While Brick warns Maggie not to touch something as sacred as his relationship with Skipper, Brick also warns her not to tell any stories about Skipper, not to remember the past. He calls the act of remembering "dangerous," and reminds us that in conceiving of the past, Maggie is also the editor and the storyteller. As such, her memory of the past may not be the exact truth, and Brick's memory of Skipper may not be the exact truth. As audience and readers, we must be content with never knowing fully what has gone on between Brick and Skipper, and we are compelled to focus our interest on what Brick and Maggie do with their memories of Skipper, rather than examining the memories themselves.

    MARGARET
    I'm not naming it dirty! I am naming it clean. (I.58.991)

    By invoking her memory of Skipper, by articulating Brick and Skipper's love, Maggie hopes to purify it and make it real. However, doing so involves telling the story of her love from her own perspective, which may not be the most successful way to honor and purify their relationship.

    BIG DADDY
    Why, half that stuff she bought is still crated up in the cellar, under water last spring! (II.86.527-529)

    Big Daddy's memories of his trip to Europe and the corruption he found there (in the form of wealthy priests, starving children, and child prostitutes) form the foundation of the Pollitt household. Mementos from the trip are molding in boxes in the cellar. In this way, the Pollitt plantation is haunted not only by the horrors of the Old South, but also by horrors elsewhere in the world.

    BIG DADDY
    That Europe is nothin' on earth but a great big auction, that's all it is, that bunch of old worn-out places, it's just a big firesale, the whole ruttin'thing […] (II.86.531-533)

    Big Daddy's summation of Europe (a continent whose history of western civilization extends much farther back into time than that of America's) as one big auction, whose goods he dutifully bought for his wife, enhances the crumbling antiquity at the heart of the Pollitt household.

    BIG DADDY
    Something's left out of that story. What did you leave out?
    […]
    You!— dug the grave of your friend and kicked him in it!—
    Before you'd face the truth with him!
    BRICK
    His truth, not mine!
    BIG DADDY
    His truth, okay! But you wouldn't face it with him!
    BRICK
    Who can face truth? Can you? (II.124.1354-1374)

    Big Daddy points here to the big problem with memory: it's so easy to leave out important details when telling a story and the storyteller can edit the story.

    BIG MAMA
    Tonight Brick looks like he used to look when he was a little boy, just like he did when he played wild games and used to come home all sweaty and pink-cheeked and sleepy, with his—red curls shining…. (III.156.589-594)

    The Pollitt Plantation is presented as a kind of intact and false Utopian vestige of the Old South. Drunk on this false Utopia, Big Mama gets stuck in her memories too of Brick as a little a boy. She remembers very superficial details about his appearance and his manner, but does not offer more concrete stories of her relationship with him. In this way, we are reminded that Brick has been raised by a family and society that loves him for his appearance and athletic ability.

  • Drugs and Alcohol

    MARGARET
    I always thought drinkin' men lost their looks, but I was plainly mistaken. (I.29.316-317)

    The fact that Brick does keep his looks is quite remarkable considering the amount he drinks. It's almost as though Fate is playing a cruel trick on him by allowing him to keep the appearance of normalcy, while destroying his internal self. He still remains attached to society through his looks, but the alcohol eats away at his insides.

    BRICK
    It just hasn't happened yet, Maggie. MARGARET
    What?
    BRICK
    The click I get in my head when I've had enough of this stuff to make me peaceful….(I.33.702-705)

    Without alcohol, a war wages within Brick as he deals with the lies in which he's been complicit. Alcohol helps numb the lies.

    MARGARET
    […] My daddy loved his liquor, he fell in love with his liquor the way you've fallen in love with Echo Spring! […] (I.54.886-888)

    Maggie is surrounded by alcoholics, men who turn to alcohol to fill the gaps in their lives and to help themselves battle them battle bitter truths. She never drinks throughout the play, but she also says that she never trusts a man who doesn't drink.

    From then on Skipper was nothing at all but a receptacle for liquor and drugs….(I.59,1135-1136)

    After Maggie confronts Skipper about his love of Brick, he gradually kills himself through alcohol and drugs. The truth kills him.

    BIG DADDY
    Where you goin'?
    BRICK
    I'm takin' a little short trip to Echo Spring. (II.88.600-601)

    Brick likens getting drunk to traveling. He is traveling away from reality. The way in which Brick specifies that his trip will be short reminds us that there will be a return and makes us think of the alternative, much longer trip: death. In this way, Brick drinks to approach the peacefulness of death.

    BIG DADDY
    A whiskey highball would injure this spastic condition?
    BRICK
    No, sir, it might do it good. (II.92.664-665)

    While we know that alcohol is probably the last thing Big Daddy should be drinking, in this moment, with Big Daddy cradled in the lie of his spastic colon, alcohol becomes medicinal and connects the father and son.

    BRICK
    - I'd better sit by myself till I hear that click in my head, it's just a mechanical thing but it don't happen except when I'm alone or talking to no one…. (II.99.824-826)

    Brick describes his click of peacefulness as "just a mechanical thing," showing us that he knows this peacefulness to be fake and temporary. He must withdraw from the world in order to hear it, because being around others will only remind him further of the lies from which he's running.

    BIG DADDY
    If I give you a drink, will you tell me what it is you're disgusted with, Brick? (II.106.958-959)

    Alcohol becomes a kind of currency in the play. Both Maggie and Big Daddy want something specific from Brick, and the only way to secure what they want is to take control of the thing he desires most of all. In this way, alcohol is a tool of power.

    BIG DADDY
    Is liquor the only thing that'll kill disgust?
    BRICK
    Now, Yeas.
    BIG DADDY
    But not once, huh?
    BRICK
    Not when I was still young an' believing. A drinking man's someone who wants to forget he isn't still young an' believing. (II.112..1082-1086)

    Brick hasn't always needed to drink. He drinks now to quell the realization that he is no longer the beloved football hero. He drinks because he's lost his belief in life. It seems like the only things that the characters in Cat believe in are everlasting life and wealth. Once Brick sees he's lost the qualities that once formed the core of his identity, he no longer has a steady foundation to rest upon should he kill the mendacity in his life. Brick's identity was and is so dependent upon what others believe him to be; this is the cause of his drinking.

    Anyhow now!—we have tracked down the lie with which you're disgusted and which you are drinking to kill your disgust with, Brick. […] This disgust with mendacity is disgust with yourself. (II.124.1366-1369)

    Is Brick really trying to kill his disgust by drinking, though? He seems to be simply numbing his disgust. If we follow Big Daddy's logic here, Brick's drinking habit takes a masochistic turn. He drinks both to quell his warring mind and to punish himself for the lies he's fueled and sustained.

  • Wealth

    MAGGIE
    Then Brother Man could get a-hold of the purse strings and dole out remittances to us, maybe get power of attorney and sign checks for us and cut off our credit wherever, whenever he wanted. (I.21.114-116)

    Maggie is the only one fighting the battle against Gooper and Mae. She is acutely aware of their plan, even before they hatch it and relay it to the family. She does not want to be at the mercy of Gooper and Mae's power.

    The Flynns never had a thing in this world but money and they lost that, they were nothing at all but fairly successful climbers. (I.25.219-221)

    Despite Gooper and Mae's efforts to make Maggie feel like the outsider, Maggie and Mae are not so different after all. Both know what it's like to not have any money, and both are hoping they never have to be without it again. This moment also makes us realize just how carefully Maggie has paid attention to the plights and business affairs of others. She is attuned to the gossip that society gleefully churns out.

    MARGARET
    Big Daddy's made no will? Big Daddy's never made out any will in his life, and so this campaign's afoot to impress him […] (I.52.843-845)

    The fact that Big Daddy's wealth is not safely protected or parceled out through a will creates insecurity for the rest of the family. However, drafting a will, in Big Daddy's mind, would involve surrendering to the notion of death, both socially and internally. He intends to outrun death. In this way, his wealth is more legendary than real, and in a household that is in many ways rotting, it is easy for us to doubt the sheer existence or size of this wealth.

    MARGARET
    Born poor, raised poor, expect to die poor unless I manage to get us something out of what Big Daddy leaves when he dies of cancer! (I.60)

    Maggie doesn't hide her motives from us or from Brick. She has her own ghosts that haunt her, and these ghosts have to do with the poverty that she knows so well.

    REVEREND TOOKER
    Oh, but St. Paul's in Grenada has three memorial windows, and the latest one is a Tiffany stained-glass window that cost twenty-five hundred dollars, a picture of Christ the Good Shepherd with his Lamb in his arms. (II.63)

    Wealth and religion intersect in Cat through a Reverend who seems more concerned about luxury and enhancements to his church than about the spiritual well being of his flock. He's acutely aware of the wealth around him and, instead of helping to support a family haunted by death, he discusses material possessions and must leave when the talk turns to Big Daddy's cancer. Big Daddy points to the human tendency to buy and buy and buy in the hopes of finding life everlasting. It would seem the world of Cat is bereft of a spiritual center or of belief in higher power.

    MARGARET
    Why is it funny? All my family ever had was family—and luxuries such as cashmere robes still surprise me! (II.71)

    Maggie has grown up poor. While she definitely knows how and when to fight for her stake in Big Daddy's wealth, she does so not out of greed, but out of a complete understanding of what it means to scrape by and to live in poverty.

    BRICK
    […] and so they're squaring off on it, each determined to knock off a bigger piece of it than the other whenever you let it go. (II.80.401-403)

    Avarice and greed, the desire to buy things and outwit death by one day coming upon life everlasting, and the desire to hold power over others, all compel Mae, Gooper, and Maggie so much that they nearly resort to physical violence. The play is riddled with instances of characters resorting to striking others in order to get what they want.

    BIG DADDY
    Everywhere she wint on this whirlwind tour, she bought, bought, bought! (II.86)

    Big Mama's consumption of material goods reflects a gluttony, and also echoes Big Daddy's assertion that when people buy and buy and buy, they are hoping life everlasting will one day fall into their hands.

    BIG DADDY
    Close on ten million in cash an' blue-chip stocks, outside, mind you, of twenty-eight thousand acres of the richest land this side of the valley Nile! (II.86)

    This is the first instance in which we get a concrete sense of just how wealthy Big Daddy is. Ten million dollars in the year 1952 would equal about $79,000,000 dollars in the year 2008. Yowsa. And that's not including the 28,000 acre property value.

    BIG DADDY
    - the human animal is a beast that dies and if he's got money he buys and buys and buys and I think the reason he buys everything he can buy is that in the back of his mind he has the crazy hope that one of his purchases will be life everlasting!—Which it never can be… (II.89.607-612)

    Again and again we see humans compared to animals throughout Cat. Big Daddy, the millionaire, understands humans' actions and desires in an animalistic sense, offering a profound explanation for the way in which humans feel the need to buy things constantly: the pursuit of eternal life. Big Daddy posits that humans use money as a weapon against death or against the great fear of death's sheer animal nature. Humans buy in the hopes of escaping death, in the hopes of becoming more than a "beast."

  • Gender

    STAGE DIRECTION
    Her voice has range, and music; sometimes it drops low as a boy's and you have a sudden image of her playing boy's games as a child. (I.21.97-99)

    Here we see clearly Maggie's ability to seem both girly and boyish. In order to survive, she must take charge and take care of Brick, and she must also use her feminine wiles to charm and manipulate others. She transgresses the stereotypical gender role assigned to her when she finds that the role does not aid her in her plan to secure wealth, security, and a baby.

    MARGARET
    And he can't stand Brother Man and Brother Man's wife, that monster of fertility, Mae […] (I.22.137-138)

    Fertility becomes associated with monstrosity in Cat. Fertility is not only represented through Mae and Gooper's ability to deliver six children to the world, but it is also reflected in the plantation itself. Big Daddy tells us his land is the richest and most fertile land west of the Nile, but the fertility of the land is also tied up with the economic system and society that produced slavery.

    MAGGIE
    Way he always drops his eyes down my body when I'm talkin' to him, drops his eyes to my boobs an' licks his old chops! Ha ha! (I.23.162-164)

    Maggie is very aware of the ways in which she can use her body and her looks to get what she wants. She understands that her role in society is to look good; in many ways she adheres to this role, while also using it to further her own campaigns.

    BIG MAMA
    […]—Shoot, Maggie, you just don't like children. (I.43.618-619)

    Here Big Mama insults Maggie by suggesting she is failing in her role as wife and woman.

    BIG MAMA
    D'you make Brick happy in bed?
    MARGARET
    Why don't you ask if he makes me happy in bed?
    […]
    BIG MAMA
    Something's not right! You're childless and my son drinks! (I.47.721-725)

    Maggie shows a progressive edge when she questions why Big Mama doesn't inquire after her sexual satisfaction rather than her husband's. Big Mama expresses a bigger societal concern when she points to the abnormal behavior and nature of Maggie and Brick's marriage: they are deviating from the roles that have been assigned to them, and this deviation is cause for great worry and even fear.

    BIG MAMA
    - When a marriage goes on the rocks, the rocks are there, right there! (I.48.729-730)

    Ironically, Big Mama cites sex as the focal point of every marriage, but we learn from Big Daddy later on that their sex life has not thrived. In this moment, Big Mama refers to the bed that remains at the center of every moment of Cat.

    BIG DADDY
    QUIET!—I ast you, Brick, if you was cuttin' you'self a piece o' poon-tang last night on that cinder track? I thought maybe you were chasin' poon-tang on that track an' tripped over something in the heat of the chase—'sthat it? (II.74.260-263)

    Big Daddy clearly defines the gender role he expects Brick to adhere to: that of sexual aggressor, for it is the role that he assumes himself. In his eyes, men must sow their wild oats, regardless of whether they are bound by marriage or not, and women exist to please men.

    BIG DADDY
    That's right, boy, they look like a couple of cats on a hot tin roof. It's funny that you and Gooper being so different would pick out the same type of woman. (II.79.394-396)

    This is the first instance in which we see a direct correlation between Mae and Maggie; both are portrayed in an animalistic light, and any discrepancies or distinctions between the two are either unimportant or are ignored by Big Daddy. In this light, we see how he perceives women generally.

    BIG DADDY
    But Gooper's wife's a good breeder, you got to admit she's fertile. (II.80.410-411)

    The value of the women in Cat is measured by their ability to produce children. Again, Big Daddy infuses his description of the women in his life with an animalistic tone.

    BIG DADDY
    I'll smother her in—minks! Ha Ha! I'll strip her naked and smother her in minks and choke her with diamonds and smother her with minks and hump her from hell to breakfast. Ha aha ha ha hha! (II.96.760-765)

    Big Daddy's relationship to women is also slightly tinged with violence. The way he talks about his desire for women, when he has renewed belief in his life, is quite disturbing in its vivid description, and he often strikes at Big Mama.

  • Language and Communication

    BRICK
    Just keep your voice down! (I.33)

    In a house where the doors are kept unlocked, and where guests are strategically assigned rooms to facilitate optimal eavesdropping, communication is a difficult process. Brick is constantly trying to silence Maggie or at least quiet her down, whereas Maggie believes in the power of words and the articulation of truths.

    MARGARET
    You just have to scribble a few lines on this card.
    BRICK
    You scribble something, Maggie
    MARGARET
    It's got to be your handwriting; it's your present, I've given him my present; it's got to be your handwriting! (I.34)

    Maggie's insistence on having Brick write Big Daddy's card reflects her desire for authenticity. She wants to articulate truths and help others articulate truths; she knows the power of authentic (and not forged) communication of love and well-wishing. She knows the simple act of having Brick sign Big Daddy's birthday card would help her immensely in her quest to secure a piece of Big Daddy's wealth.

    MARGARET
    […]
    But I could make her hear me just by sayin' each word slowly, distinctly, close to her ear. I read her the Commerical Appeal ev'ry night, read her the classified ads in it, even, she never missed a word of it. (I.46.686-689)

    Here again we further understand Maggie's ability to make people understand her as well as her desire to be understood perfectly. She does not run from truths, but seeks to articulate them in full color and detail.

    MARGARET
    Because it's got to be told, and you, you!—you never let me! (I.57)

    Brick and Maggie's relationship breaks down when one retreats from life and the other runs towards it. Their marriage malfunctions when Brick suppresses or tries to quiet Maggie so as not to disturb his mind-numbing alcohol-binging experience. Maggie cannot be suppressed, but must tell the truth about her history with Skipper.

    BIG DADDY
    Why is it so damn hard for people to talk? (II.85)

    Big Daddy and Brick talk in circles and come close to accomplishing nothing with their conversation. Only Big Daddy's insistence and his new-found strength afforded by his brush with death provide something meaningful to discuss. Talking is hard for Brick and Big Daddy because they are too afraid of what they might discover should they bring up real issues and latent truths. They might lose control if they were to discuss the truths that haunt them.

    BIG DADDY
    I've been quiet here lately, spoke not a word, just sat and stared into space. I had something heavy weighing on my mind but tonight that load was took off me. That's why I'm talking—
    The sky looks diff'rent to me…. (II.89)

    Death quiets Big Daddy and forces him into self-reflection. The release of death's shadow compels Big Daddy to talk constantly and affords him with a new strength to hunt down truths within both himself and his favorite son.

    BRICK
    Are you through talkin' to me?
    BIG DADDY
    Why are you so anxious to shut me up?
    BRICK
    Well, sir, every so often you say to me, Brick, I want to have a talk with you, but when we talk, it never materializes. Nothing is said. […] Communication is—aweful hard between people an'—somehow between you and me, it just don't— II.90

    Almost worse than confronting truths through conversation and confrontation is the pain of trying to communicate -- and of coming to terms with the failure to do so. Brick and Big Daddy have a hard time talking because they are both so tied to their external identities and are not necessarily united by their love of self-reflection.

    BRICK
    But this talk is like all the others we've ever had together in our lives! It's nowhere, nowhere!—it's—it's painful, Big Daddy…. (II.99)

    Whereas families are often very content to exist within their habitual frameworks, the lack of effective communication is one habit that Brick cannot stand. Family gatherings involve traditions and memories, but Brick winces at these cyclical activities and longs for the means to grow and move, to push past the same old roles and conversations that define a family dynamic. He can no longer live in this cyclical way.

    BRICK
    […]
    We talk, you talk, in—circles! We get no where, no where! It's always the same, you say you want to talk to me and don't have a ruttin' thing to say to me! (II.102)

    Here Brick parses out the difference between saying something and saying something meaningful. Conversation can either carry the intent to maintain the status quo, or to move beyond, to learn new things, to point toward truths. Brick is already trapped in a kind of purgatory, and any conversation that helps him remain in that liminal (in-between) state is just devastating.

    BIG DADDY
    […]
    I don't know what, it's always like something was left not spoken something avoided because neither of us was honest enough with the—other…. (II.111)

    Big Daddy and Brick are too afraid to be honest with one another, perhaps because they are more similar than we would like to believe. They are too afraid of hurting each other through honest conversation.