Study Guide

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Sexuality and Sexual Identity

By Tennessee Williams

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.