Study Guide

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Summary

By Tennessee Williams

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Summary

The curtain rises and reveals a bedroom scene, and we sure hope you like bedrooms, because we never leave this bedroom throughout the entire play. There are no scene changes, only sky changes. What ensues during the first Act is a series of conversations between Margaret (Maggie) and Brick Pollitt, a young married couple who have come to visit Brick's parents on the family cotton plantation in the Mississippi Delta. Intermittently, we hear the ear-piercing screams and singing of some of the most annoying children in all of literature. These kids belong to Brick's brother and sister in-law, Gooper and Mae Pollitt.

Everybody is cozying up in the family mansion to celebrate Big Daddy Pollitt's 65th birthday. Not long into Act I, we discover Big Daddy has been sick, however, and that he and his wife, who is known as Big Mama (we're not making this up), have been informed that his sickness is due merely to a spastic colon. Maggie, Gooper, and Mae know, however, that Big Daddy is actually sick with malignant cancer and that he is dying. They are planning on letting him know later that night, right after he blows out the candles. Ah, good times.

During this first act, we are mainly focused on Maggie and Brick's chatting. Scratch that. We mainly watch Maggie talk to Brick. You see, Brick isn't the biggest fan of Maggie, to put it mildly. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, and also in Maggie and Brick's marriage. We don't get all the facts in this first Act, but we learn that Brick broke his ankle the night before while attempting to jump hurdles at his old high school (while drunk). Maggie brings up a man named Skipper, whom we discover is Brick's best friend who recently died. They have a heated discussion about how Skipper died and about the nature of Brick and Skipper's love. Maggie tries to get Brick to talk about Skipper and their love, but Brick gets angry. Brick's sister-in-law, Mae, comes in briefly and Maggie and Mae get into a scuffle. Brick looks for the click of peacefulness that comes to him when he has had enough to drink.

Big Mama stops by to clean up, to fawn over her baby boy, and to tell Brick that Big Daddy doesn't have cancer. She asks Maggie why she is childless and tells her that the roots of all marriage problems lie in the bedroom. Aha! Clue number one. How convenient that we are in a bedroom.

When Big Mama leaves, Maggie talks to Brick about their sex life, or lack thereof, and we learn about the condition of their marriage: Brick will stay with Maggie as long as she doesn't try to sleep with him. The Act ends with a no-neck monster bursting into the room and pointing a pretend pistol at Maggie, shouting "bang, bang, bang!" When the monster leaves, Maggie tells Brick she is able to conceive, and Brick asks Maggie how she plans to have a baby by a man that can't stand her. Ouch.

No time has lapsed as we begin Act II. In this Act, the doggy doodoo really does hit the fan, if you pardon our faux-French. Because of Brick's ankle injury, everybody comes to Brick and Maggie's room to celebrate Big Daddy's birthday party. By everybody, we mean Brick, Maggie, Big Daddy, Big Mama, Mae, Gooper, the five kids, the Reverend, and the family doctor, Doc Baugh. Throughout this act, people move between the bedroom and the gallery (read: veranda) outside, where they watch fireworks exploding and enjoy the cool Delta breeze.

The beating heart of this Act is the long conversation that takes place between Big Daddy and Brick. Alone in the bedroom, Big Daddy attempts to have a conversation with Brick. They discuss everything from Big Daddy's newfound appreciation for life after discovering his ailment is merely a spastic colon, to uncovering the source of Brick's urge to drink as heavily as he does. The conversation doesn't go anywhere at first, as, we learn, their conversations never really do. Big Daddy philosophizes about wealth and the pursuit of happiness. He tells Brick about a trip he and Big Mama took to Europe one year and the corruption that he found there. All the while, Brick continues to search for the click. However, Big Daddy is determined to find the source of Brick's discontent.

Brick tells Big Daddy he is disgusted with the mendacity in the world. Woah. That's a big word. Hold on while we look up mendacity in the dictionary. OK got it. Mendacity=lying. Big Daddy probes further and we finally hear the story of Skipper from Brick's perspective. Brick tells Big Daddy that when Maggie became jealous of his friendship with Skipper, she planted the seed in Skipper's mind that he was in love with Brick. Skipper took to the bottle, and, before he died, confessed his love for Brick over the phone.

Brick becomes volcanic with emotion as he tells Big Daddy this deepest secret. In the spirit of telling truths and stirring up ghosts, Brick tells Big Daddy the truth of his medical condition: he is dying of malignant liver cancer. As soon as he tells this truth, Brick regrets having done so. He urges Big Daddy to join the festivities outside, but it is too late. Big Daddy is devastated by the news that he's dying and leaves the room.

Again, no time has lapsed as we move into Act III. Everyone comes back into the bedroom and wonders where Big Daddy has gone. The tone of the party sobers (but Brick doesn't) as Gooper and Mae gather everyone for a family conference. Brick leaves to drink outside and to sing to the moon. Slowly, Gooper and Mae begin to tell Big Mama the news of Big Daddy's sickness. Big Mama is distraught and is in denial at first. She wants Brick to tell her the truth. Gooper and Mae not-so-subtly discuss the inheritance and who will take over the plantation when Big Daddy leaves. Maggie is disgusted by the greed she sees in Gooper and Mae.

A bitter family conflict arises, quelled only by Big Mama taking charge, using language we might expect from Big Daddy, and telling everyone to cool it. She tells Brick that he is Big Daddy's favorite; this sends Gooper and Mae into a tizzy. At the height of all of this, Maggie announces she is pregnant, news that lifts Big Mama's spirits. Big Mama runs to tell Big Daddy. Gooper and Mae leave the bedroom hissing like, well, cats. We hear occasional moans of anguish coming from Big Daddy, emanating from another room in the house.

Maggie turns out the lights and disposes of all of the alcohol in the room while Brick drinks on the gallery. When he returns, Maggie tells him that she has gotten rid of the alcohol and that she will give him a drink only after he agrees to sleep with her. The curtain falls as Maggie tells Brick she loves him, and Brick simply says, "Wouldn't it be funny if that were true?" And they all live happily ever after. The End.