Study Guide

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Wealth

By Tennessee Williams


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

[…] 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.

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.

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.

- 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."