Study Guide

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Gender

By Tennessee Williams


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.

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.

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.

[…]—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.

D'you make Brick happy in bed?
Why don't you ask if he makes me happy in bed?
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.

- 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.