Cat On A Hot Tin Roof Summary – Act 1 Part 1
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is set on a summer evening in the upstairs bed-sitting room of a plantation home in the Mississippi Delta. It is the sixty-fifth birthday of Big Daddy, the head of the household. Margaret enters. Her husband Brick, who is Big Daddy’s younger son, is taking a shower in the bathroom, the door of which is half open. Margaret (Maggie) is complaining that at the dinner table one of the five young children of her brother- and sister-in-law has just thrown a hot buttered biscuit at her and stained her dress. She has come into the room in order to change it. As the children can be heard shrieking downstairs, Maggie complains about them. They are a noisy nuisance, and they are making a mess of the lace tablecloth. Their parents, Mae and Gooper, encourage them to do tricks for their grandfather. They also make sly innuendoes about the fact that Brick and Maggie are childless. Mae is pregnant with her sixth child.
Brick emerges and stands at the bathroom doorway. He has a broken ankle, which is in plaster. Maggie tells him that Mae and Gooper are scheming to get Big Daddy to cut Brick out of his inheritance of the estate. Maggie explains that Big Daddy is dying of cancer. They received the doctor’s report that day. It was no surprise to her, or to Mae and Gooper, and it explains their presence on Big Daddy’s birthday. However, Big Daddy and Big Mama have not been informed of the diagnosis.
Maggie goes on to reveal that Brick is an alcoholic and that his brother and her wife intend to dispatch him to Rainbow Hill, which is a place for the treatment of alcoholics. Then they would have control of the estate. Maggie vows to resist their efforts.
Maggie also reveals that Brick broke his ankle the previous night jumping hurdles on the high school athletic field at two or three in the morning. Then she mentions that Brick has a big advantage in the present situation: his father dotes on him and dislikes Mae and Gooper. She also comments that Big Daddy tolerates her and finds her sexually attractive. Maggie likes this, but Brick says it is disgusting.
The children are heard again, screaming downstairs, and Maggie explains to Brick what the scene is like at the supper-table. Brick doesn’t really listen to her; he looks away with a troubled expression on his face, but as she continues, he watches her, his expression hard to define.
Maggie continues, attacking her sister-in-law. She says that Gooper thinks he married someone of a higher social class, but he is mistaken. Mae’s family lost all the money they once had, and her father barely escaped a prison term for manipulating the stock market. Maggie pours contempt on that fact that Mae was once the cotton carnival queen. She does not envy her. She remembers what happened to Susan McPheeters, who had been the cotton carnival queen two years ago. Someone spat tobacco juice in her face.
As she tells this story she catches sight of Brick’s face in the mirror, looking at her. She turns round and demands to know why he is looking at her in that way. He doesn’t know what she is talking about. Then she blurts out that she knows that recently she has gone through a transformation. She has got hard and frantic. She gets lonely, she says, because living with someone you love can be very lonely if the love is not returned. Brick asks if she would sooner live alone, and she replies, emphatically, that she would not.
Maggie cannot maintain the intense feelings this has confession aroused, so she goes back to ordinary conversation, asking Brick if he enjoyed his shower. She offers him a rub with cologne or alcohol, but he declines. She tells him that he has kept his looks in spite of his drinking, although in a way she wishes he had not, which would make her “martyrdom” more bearable. She says he has a kind of detachment about him, which she calls the charm of the defeated.
As she hears the sound of conversation about a croquet game coming from outside, she says Brick he was a wonderful lover. She also reveals that he no longer makes love to her, and it is clear this is deeply distressing for her. But she is determined to continue to fight and win what she wants in life. She compares herself to a cat on a hot tin roof, just trying to stay on it.
She asks Brick whether he has been thinking of his dead friend, Skipper, even though she knows Brick does not want to talk about it. Brick drops his crutch and hangs on to the towel rack. He demands that she give him his crutch, even though she wants him to lean on her shoulder. She gives it to him, and he goes to the liquor cabinet for another drink. He has to drink until he gets what he calls a “click” in his head that makes him feel peaceful. Maggie tries to get him to promise it will be his last drink until after Big Daddy’s birthday party. Brick has forgotten it is his father’s birthday. Maggie asks him to sign a birthday card to go with his present to Big Daddy. Brick says he didn’t get him a present, and Maggie replies that she got one for him. Brick refuses, saying that she is forgetting the conditions on which he agreed to stay on living with her. Maggie says the conditions were impossible, but she does not explain what they were.
Act 1 Part 1 Analysis
This introductory part of the play is the exposition, which provides the setting, introduces some of the characters, and informs the audience of the events that have led up to the situation that is being depicted on the stage. The exposition also creates some of the dramatic tensions that will carry the play forward.
The burden of the exposition falls on Maggie, from whom we learn that Big Daddy has cancer but does not know it; that Mae and Gooper are trying to secure the inheritance for themselves; and that Maggie and Brick are having marital troubles because of Brick’s refusal to make love to her.
There is an immediate contrast between Maggie, who has a zest for life and is determined to get what she wants in life, and Brick, who as the stage directions state, has “that cool air of detachment that people have who have given up the struggle.” Brick is very withdrawn for some reason that has not yet been disclosed. When he talks to Maggie he only pretends to be interested in what she is saying. Even though she is obviously still in love with him and driven to distraction by his withdrawal from her, he is maddeningly uncommunicative to her. He is also strangely passive about the scheme that Gooper and Mae are planning; he does not seem to care that he may lose his inheritance. He is obviously retreating from something painful in his life. His troubled psychology is symbolized by his broken ankle; he can only hobble around the room.
Maggie is an attractive character who quickly gains the audience’s sympathy. Gooper and Mae are presented in a negative light, an impression they will do nothing in the play to alter. The audience is also puzzled by Brick’s passive, detached demeanor-here is an attractive man, a former athlete, who is not interested in having sex with his wife, and who drinks heavily. What is wrong with him?
This mystery is linked to the theme of secrecy and illusions. In this household, matters are not discussed openly, although eventually, they will have to be. Maggie expresses the theme perfectly when she says to Brick:
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 hopes of forgetting that the house is burning (p. 32, New Directions edition, 1975).
Cat On A Hot Tin Roof Summary – Act 1 Part 2
Mae enters, carrying a young lady’s archery set. Maggie recognizes it as a trophy she won at an intercollegiate archery contest. Mae says it is dangerous to leave it lying around the house when there are children around, and asks Maggie to lock it up. Maggie puts it in the closet. Mae then talks about what has been going on downstairs after supper. The kids played musical instruments and two of them danced in fairy costume. Maggie makes a sarcastic remark about the names of Mae’s children (Dixie, Trixie, Buster, Sonny, Polly), saying they sound like four dogs and a parrot. Mae asks her sister why she is so catty, and explains the real names of her children. Then Gooper calls her and she leaves the room.
Maggie says she will put out Brick’s silk suit and silk shirt, but he refuses to put them on. Instead, he agrees to wear white silk pajamas. She pleads with him to end the punishment he is inflicting on her (by not showing affection and refusing to make love to her), but Brick’s reply is unsympathetic. He tells her to take a lover, but she replies that she is only interested in him.
Maggie locks the door and closes the curtains and pleads with him to relent. She yells that she cannot accept the condition he imposed. She seizes his shoulder, but he breaks away from her, takes hold of a chair and brandishes it like a lion-tamer. She breaks into hysterical laughter, and he grins and puts the chair down.
Big Mama enters, and Brick retreats to the bathroom. She says she has wonderful news about Big Daddy. Maggie starts to complain about the children again, but Big Mama dismisses her, saying she just doesn’t like children.
Then Big Mama explains that the lab report on Big Daddy’s condition is negative. There is nothing wrong with him except a spastic colon. She is elated by this news (which Maggie knows to be incorrect). She tells Maggie to get dressed because, since Brick has an injured ankle, they are all coming up to the room for the birthday party.
Big Mama goes into the hall to take a phone call from Miss Sally, Big Daddy’s sister. She explains the news about Big Daddy but cannot hear well because Miss Sally is calling from a noisy hotel lobby. Maggie takes the phone and tells Miss Sally again about the news of the lab report.
Big Mama asks Maggie whether Brick has been drinking. Maggie gives an evasive answer, and Big Mama implies that Brick never drank until he got married. Maggie interrupts her, saying that her comment is not fair. Big Mama then asks Maggie whether she makes Brick happy in bed. Maggie replies by asking why her mother-in-law doesn’t ask the question the other way round, since it works both ways. Big Mama says that when a marriage goes wrong, the cause is there-and she points at the bed.
After Big Mama exits, Brick comes out of the bathroom and goes straight for the liquor cabinet. Maggie says she is confident their sex life will return, and she is keeping herself attractive in anticipation of it. She stands in front of a mirror and admires her body, telling Brick that other men are still attracted to her. At a party the best-looking man in the room followed her upstairs and tried to force his way into the powder room. Brick reacts indifferently to this piece of information, saying he would not have minded had she let the man in. Maggie replies that she is not going to give him any grounds for divorce, but Brick says he would not divorce her for being unfaithful; on the contrary, he would be relieved that she had found a lover. He says she could leave him, but Maggie says she does not want to. She adds that Brick would not be able to pay for a divorce anyway, and reminds him that Big Daddy is dying of cancer. Brick for the first time seems aware of this, but points out that Big Mama told them that Big Daddy was not dying. Maggie explains that Big Mama and Big Daddy were both given the same story, but tonight Big Mama will be told that the cancer is malignant and terminal. Today is Big Daddy’s last birthday, and Mae and Gooper are both aware of it, which is why they rushed down the plantation to visit. They know that Big Daddy has not made a will, so they are out to impress on him the fact that Brick drinks and Maggie has borne no children.
Act 1 Part 2 Analysis
It is a paradox that in this house where there are secrets, and people do not tell the truth, there is also a lack of privacy. People eavesdrop on the conversations of others. This will become more apparent later on, but it is clear when Maggie says, “HUSH! Who is out there? Is somebody at the door?” (p 36), that she is used to such intrusions.
In this scene there are two interruptions to Maggie’s attempts to get through to Brick. The first is by Mae, who does not lose a minute to get in a dig at Maggie for her childlessness. There is no love lost between these two women. Mae, pregnant with her sixth child, represents fertility, while Maggie represents an enforced chastity-as the ironic allusion to the “Diana Trophy” she won at archery suggests, since in classical mythology, Diana is the virgin huntress. Diana often has to fight off suitors to retain her virginity, whereas Maggie does the opposite: she fights to get Brick to end her unwanted state of celibacy.
Maggie uses the language of imprisonment to describe her condition. “We occupy the same cage” she says to Brick, and later she says has she served enough time, and wants to apply for a pardon. It is torture for her to be yoked to a husband who denies her affection and love. She is reduced to pointing out how attractive her body is to other men, hoping that will arouse some desire in him. But Brick continues his cruelly indifferent behavior.
In this section also, Maggie returns to the metaphor of the cat, in reference to herself, which she first mentioned in the previous section.
This is the first appearance of Big Mama, who makes the second interruption to the dialogue between Maggie and Brick. Big Mama is like Maggie in that-as we shall see in Act 2-she is married to a man who does not value or even recognize her love for him. But this does not create a bond between Big Mama and Maggie, because Big Mama sees the relationship between Maggie and Brick only through the eyes of her son. She blames Maggie for Brick’s drinking and implies it is Maggie’s fault if the couple does not have a satisfactory sex life. This makes Maggie feel totally alone.
Big Mama’s words to Maggie about Big Daddy’s illness, that it is only a “spastic colon,” not cancer, is an example of dramatic irony, since the audience, earlier informed by Maggie, knows that he does have cancer. This is also another example of how in this household, the truth is not told, because it is too painful. Even Maggie is drawn into the lie, when she is forced to tell Miss Sally on the telephone that Big Daddy does not have a serious illness.
Cat On A Hot Tin Roof Summary – Act 1 Part 3
As Brick goes out into the long gallery, Maggie tells him that she is fond of Big Daddy in spite of his coarseness. He is a self-made man, having started in a humble position but going on to develop the property into the biggest plantation in the Delta.
Maggie says she needs money to look after a drinker-her husband-and she intends to get it. She is determined to defeat the plans of Mae and Gooper to freeze them out of the estate. She gives a long speech about how she has always been poor. She has had to suck up to relatives she hated just because they had money. She wore hand-me-down clothes; her wedding dress was her grandmother’s wedding gown. She does not want to grow old and still be without money.
She says the mistake she made was in telling Brick the truth about “that thing” with his friend Skipper (she does not explain for the audience what it was). Brick tells her to stop talking about Skipper, but she continues. The three of them were friends, and on one occasion, Maggie and Skipper made love. When they did this, they were both pretending that their partner was Brick. In other words, Skipper, Brick’s friend, was sexually attracted to him.
To stop the conversation, Brick calls down to the children to tell everyone to come upstairs. But Maggie insists that the story be fully told. She says that the relationship between Brick and Skipper was a beautiful thing, but it could never be carried through to anything satisfying, or even be talked about. As Brick tries to stop her talking about it, she says she understands all about it. She thinks it was noble. She remembers back in college, when they double-dated; it was more like a date between Brick and Skipper, with the two women just tagging along.
Brick insists that his friendship with Skipper was a great thing; he resents her naming it “dirty.” Maggie replies that he has not been listening to what she has been saying. She knows it was only Skipper who had the desire for something beyond normal friendship with Brick. She recalls how she and Brick were happy in the early years of their marriage; their sexual relationship was great. But Brick and Skipper turned down job offers into order to continue being pro-football heroes, and that was when things went wrong. Skipper started to drink, and Brick got a spinal injury. One night they were all drinking together and Maggie told Skipper to stop loving her husband or tell him he must let him, Skipper, admit it to him. Skipper slapped her and walked out. She went to his room that night, and he tried to make love to her, wanting to prove that he was not homosexual.
After Maggie says this, Brick strikes at her with his crutch, shattering the lamp on the table.
Maggie goes on to say that she thinks she destroyed Skipper by telling him the truth. After that, Skipper took to drink and drugs.
Brick strikes at her and misses.
Maggie demands that at least he give her credit for being honest. She also points out that Skipper is now dead but she is alive.
Brick hops forward and again strikes at her with his crutch, falling to the floor as he does so. One of the children, Dixie, bursts into the room, and Maggie chides her for not knocking. Dixie fires her cap pistol at Maggie, and Maggie seizes it and throws it through the gallery doors. Dixie says cruelly that Maggie is just jealous because she cannot have babies.
After Dixie exits, Maggie tells Brick she has been to a gynecologist in Memphis who told her there was no reason she could not have a child. She tells him that this is the right time of the month for her to become pregnant. Brick responds by asking how she is going to have a child by a man that can’t stand her. She replies that that’s a problem she will have to work out.
Voice are heard as everyone starts to come up to Brick’s room.
Act 1 Part 3 Analysis
When the play was written, in 1955, attitudes to homosexuality were different than they are today. Today’s society is more open, but in the 1950s, homosexuality was not something that was openly discussed. It was widely considered to be a shameful thing. And yet Williams made it a key element of the play.
Some critics argue that Brick’s sexuality is ambivalent, that he is repressing homosexual desires. It is equally possible to argue from the evidence of the play that the homosexuality was confined to Skipper (and even then, it is possible that Maggie was mistaken in her belief that Skipper was homsexual, even though she caused him to believe that he was). As far as Brick was concerned, his friendship with Skipper was true and pure; it did not have any physical or sexual elements, and he and Maggie were happy with their own sex life.
It is Maggie’s determination to discuss the subject that Brick insists is forbidden that starts to unearth the causes of Brick’s decline into alcoholism. In a relationship such as theirs, where one person is passive and determined not to react or engage the other person, the other person must try to force his or her partner to react. This is what Maggie does, and she succeeds. Brick is forced to drop his mask of indifference and detachment and engage with her. Maggie’s account of what happened to Skipper may explain why Brick is punishing her by withholding his affection. He may blame her for the death of his friend. But he is still refusing to face the full truth about what happened between him and Skipper, which will only emerge in the next act.
Cat On A Hot Tin Roof Summary – Act 2 Part 1
Gooper, Reverend Tooker, Big Daddy, and then Mae and Dr. Baugh, enter Brick’s room. Maggie turns on some music, and there is general conversation, while Brick remains standing apart. Big Daddy shouts to have the music turned off, and there is almost instant silence. Big Mama enters, and Big Daddy makes a cruel joke at her expense, which she laughs off. She is used to doing this, but she is hurt nonetheless by her husband’s words. She tells Brick to put his liquor down, and he responds by draining the glass and then handing it to her. She scolds him affectionately, to which he responds by switching on the TV set, and she promptly asks him to turn it off. She hates television. In a playful mood, happy because she thinks Big Daddy is going to be all right, she pulls the Reverend Tooker onto her lap. Mae and Gooper dislike her antics, as does Big Daddy. Big Daddy is in pain and secretly knows there is something wrong with him more than a spastic colon. He tells his wife to stop her horseplay.
The servants enter with the birthday cake, and everyone sings “Happy Birthday.” Big Mama tells Brick the marvelous news that Big Daddy does not have cancer; Maggie breaks in and gives Big Daddy Brick’s present to him. Mae asks Brick what it is, and Gooper adds that he suspects Brick doesn’t know. Margaret opens the package herself; it is a cashmere robe. She tries to sound surprised, but Mae knows she is not, because the salesgirl at the store in Memphis told her that Maggie has bought it.
Big Daddy calls for silence and glares. He speaks aggressively to Reverend Tooker, and then to Mae, who has tried to change the subject. Bid Daddy then talks to Brick, wanting to know what Brick was doing on the high school athletic field at 3 a.m. Was he chasing a woman when he fell and injured himself? There is nervous laughter. Brick replies that he was not chasing a woman. He was just jumping the hurdles, and he admits that he was drunk.
Big Mama starts to propose a toast for Big Daddy on his birthday, but Big Daddy cuts her off. His wife reproaches him, but he says he will say whatever he wants to. As the others slip out to the gallery, Big Daddy tells his wife that she can stop planning to take over the place and everything in it, because he is not sick after all. He uses insulting language to her, and when she tries to restrain him, he uses more obscene language. He repeats that he is in charge, and proudly relates his history-leaving school at ten to work in the fields, rising to be overseer of the plantation, then partner. The place got bigger and bigger through his efforts. He is not about to give up control to anyone. Hurt, Big Mama asks him whether in all the forty years they have been married, did he never believe that she loved him? She confesses that she even loved his hatred and his hardness. She sobs and runs out to the gallery.
Act 2 Part 1 Analysis
This is the audience’s first sight of Big Daddy. He is a big man who dominates the room. This is a man who is used to asserting himself and is not afraid to exert his authority.
Big Daddy prides himself on being forthright and speaking his mind, but he does not necessarily see situations and characters clearly. One of the problems depicted in the play, as Williams himself pointed out, is that the characters tend to view the other characters through the distorting lens of their own egos. Big Daddy, for example, believes that for the last few years, his wife has been scheming to take over the running of the plantation, and he taunts her that now he has been declared free of cancer, her plans will be thwarted. He is wrong on both counts. Big Mama is devoted to her husband and would do nothing to upset him, but he is unable to see that. After she tells him how much she has loved him, even when he was rejecting her, he says to himself, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that was true . . .” as if the thought has never occurred to him. It seems that because he does not love her, he assumes that she does not love him. He can only see things from his own perspective.
For her part, Big Mama cannot face the truth either. She cannot acknowledge to herself that her husband does not love her and cannot even stand the sight of her. She cannot acknowledge that when he says cruel things, he really means them-but he does.
The giving of Brick’s birthday present to Big Daddy suggests the lack of communication between them that will be alluded to in the second part of the Act. Brick does not buy the gift himself and has to be badgered by Maggie to even sign the card. Big Daddy refuses to open it himself, so Maggie opens it for him. Big Daddy makes no reaction to it, either favorable or unfavorable. Father and son are failing to connect with each other, and Brick will shortly point out that that is the usual pattern between them.
Cat On A Hot Tin Roof Summary – Act 2 Part 2
Big Daddy calls Brick in. They are alone together. Big Daddy comments that both Mae and Maggie have the same sort of look on their faces. Brick says it is because they are both competing to see who can get the bigger portion of land when he lets it go. Big Daddy says that will be a long time yet before he gives anything up.
They chat for a moment before Big Daddy realizes that someone is listening to their conversation. He discovers that it is Mae. Big Daddy tells her he wants some privacy. He also says he is going to move Mae and Gooper out of the room next to Brick and Maggie, since they listen at night to what goes on in the adjoining room and then report it to Big Mama.
Big Daddy then asks Brick if it is true that he does not sleep with Maggie. He also asks if Brick has a drinking problem, and whether that is why he quit sports-announcing. Brick admits that it is, and his father responds by telling him he is throwing his life away. He asks him how it happened, and Brick says he doesn’t know.
Since they are finding it hard to talk to each other, Big Daddy starts reminiscing about his trip to Europe with Big Mama. He grumbles about how much everything cost, and how much useless stuff his wife bought. He says he is lucky he is a rich man. In addition to the land, he is worth ten million dollars in cash as well as some blue-chip stocks. But a man cannot buy his life with it, he adds.
He remembers one more thing about his trip to Europe-the begging children in Barcelona, Spain, who presented such a contrast with the fat priests. He threw a lot of money to the children so he could get rid of them long enough to get in the car and drive away. In Morocco, an Arab woman sent her naked little girl to him to offer him sex for money. He went straight back to the hotel and left the country immediately.
Brick says he want his crutch so he can go to the cabinet for another drink. His father hands him his crutch, and goes on talking. He is talking a lot because a load has been taken off his mind by the news that he does not have cancer.
Brick asks him whether he’s finished talking to him. He says that whenever they talk, nothing is really said. There is no communication between them. Big Daddy admits that he thought he had cancer, but he managed to keep quiet about it. He wonders if he can risk taking a drink, and he pours himself one. He tells Brick that at the age of sixty-five he still has a desire for women, and he is going to put his scruples aside and “have me a -ball!” He admits that in all the years he slept with his wife, he never even liked her.
The phone is ringing down the hall. Big Mama enters, wondering why the men never seem to hear the phone. Big Daddy makes a cruel joke at her expense, and after she exits, her voice can be heard talking on the phone to Miss Sally. When she returns, Big Daddy holds the door half-closed so she cannot come in. As she asks him whether he meant all the cruel things he said to her, he shuts the door. She retreats, sobbing.
Big Daddy says to Brick that all he asks of his wife is that she should leave him alone, but she cannot admit that she makes him sick. He talks again about how he is going to find another woman for sex. He says he is happy, and asks Brick why he is so restless. Brick says he has to drink until he hears that click in his head that makes him feel at peace. Big Daddy tells him he is an alcoholic, and Brick admits as much. Big Daddy says he had no idea that Brick was turning into a drunkard.
Brick again wants to end the conversation, but Big Daddy takes his crutch and tosses it across the room. He says he is going to straighten his son out. He tells Brick how relieved he was to hear he only had a spastic colon.
A child comes in the room with a sparkler and there is the sound of laughter outside. Brick hops across the room and gets his crutch, but his father orders him to stay. Brick complains that their conversation goes round in circles. They start to quarrel and Big Daddy raises his voice. Big Mama rushes in, wondering what is going on. Big Daddy tells her to leave, and she exits, sobbing.
Act 2 Part 2 Analysis
Lying behind this conversation between father and son are the two unmentionable topics: Big Daddy’s impending death and the homosexuality that destroyed Brick’s friendship with Skipper.
There is dramatic irony in the situation because Brick and the audience know that Big Daddy is dying, but he does not. On the contrary, he thinks he has been spared. He needs to confess to someone that he thought he was dying, and to express his relief that he is not. His recent scare has forced him to think about mortality and even to question some of his values. He is a man who has accumulated great wealth, but he now realizes that “a man can’t buy his life with it when his life has been spent” (p. 89). Nor can money do much to alleviate human suffering, because humans are selfish. The fact that Big Daddy chooses to say these things to Brick, but not to his wife or his other son, shows his affection for Brick. It is to Brick that he reveals his true feelings about his wife and about Mae and Gooper (“them two-drips. . . .”).
It is Big Daddy’s affection for Brick, and his desire to help him, that makes him so persistent in probing his son. The dramatic tension arises from that fact that Brick is continually evasive. He does not want to talk, and he tries to justify his reluctance by claiming that their father-son discussions never amount to anything. But Big Daddy’s persistence will eventually break through Brick’s emotional reserve and uncover the truth.
Cat On A Hot Tin Roof Summary – Act 2 Part 3
Brick walks toward the gallery but Big Daddy pulls his crutch from under him so that Brick is forced to take a step with his injured ankle. He cries out in pain and asks his father to give him his crutch back, but Big Daddy throws it out of reach. Big Daddy then insists that Brick tell him why he drinks. Eventually Brick replies with one word: disgust. Big Daddy asks him what he is disgusted with. They strike a bargain that if Big Daddy gives Brick a drink, he will answer the question. Brick says he is disgusted with all the mendacity (lying) that goes on around him.
Big Daddy replies he could write a book about mendacity. He has many lies he has to put up with, such as pretending that he cares for his wife, for Gooper and Mae and their children, when he cannot stand the sight of any of them. But he says he likes and respects Brick, and his life had been devoted to making him a success as a planter. He tells Brick to live with mendacity, since there is no other choice. Brick replies that there is a choice-he can live with liquor.
Big Daddy confesses that he had been thinking about who he should leave his property to. He could not make up his mind, since he hated Mae and Gooper but he also did not want to leave his property to a drunk. Now, he says, he doesn’t have to make an immediate decision, since he does not have cancer. He will wait and see if Brick pulls himself together.
Brick says he does not care, and he tries to leave, but his father prevents him. There is something more tender in his manner. He probes his son further, to find out what would stop Brick feeling disgust. He suggests that his son go back to being a sports announcer, but Brick does not want to do that. He is too conscious of the fact that he is no longer able to play football.
Still probing, Big Daddy mentions that Brick started drinking when Skipper died. He says that according to Mae and Gooper, there was something not normal about Brick’s relationship with Skipper. Over Brick’s protests, Big Daddy explains that he has seen a lot of life. He understands that the former owners of the plantation, Jack Straw and Peter Ochello, were homosexuals. When Straw died, Ochello stopped eating. Big After Brick exclaims vehemently that he has not stopped eating, Daddy points out that he did start drinking. Brick is angry and accuses his father of thinking that he and Skipper had a sexual relationship. He is shouting, and Big Daddy tries to calm him down. Brick is shocked that his father is talking so casually about something that arouses most people’s disgust. Big Daddy replies that he is not easily shocked.
Brick protests. He says that he and Skipper had an exceptional friendship. That was what was not normal about it-it was pure and true. Big Daddy insists on probing further about why Skipper cracked up, and why Brick has too.
Brick responds by telling the story of his past, as he understands it. He married Maggie one summer because she insisted that it was then or never. At first they had a wonderful time as Maggie went on the road with the Dixie Stars. But Skipper got a fever, and Brick injured himself. Then when Maggie was sitting on the bench with Skipper during a football game, she told him that he and Brick were frustrated homosexuals. Skipper went to bed with Maggie to prove this was not true, but when he failed, he believed what she had told him-and that was what destroyed him.
Big Daddy says that something has been left out of the story. Brick admits that Skipper made a telephone call to him, in which he confessed his feelings for him. Brick hung up the phone. It was the last time they ever spoke to each other.
Big Daddy tells Brick that his disgust with mendacity is really disgust with himself because he was unable to face the truth with his friend.
Then Brick does his own piece of truth-telling by alluding to the wish for “many happy returns of the day” that Big Daddy is receiving from everyone on his birthday. He says that everyone except Big Daddy knows there won’t be any happy returns. The truth begins to sink into Big Daddy, and he insists that Brick finish what he was saying. He asks whether they have all been lying about the hospital report. Brick says that there are only two ways out of the mendacity they all live in: liquor and death. Then he apologizes for what he said, but insists that friends must tell each other the truth. Big Daddy told him the truth, so Brick returned the compliment.
With great feeling, and revulsion, Big Daddy says several times that they are all liars. He goes out.
Act 2 Part 3 Analysis
This part of the scene is the dramatic climax of the play. The truth about Big Daddy’s approaching death and the homosexuality that destroyed Brick’s relationship with Skipper finally comes out.
The dialogue between father and son reveals the difference between their attitudes. Big Daddy is a realist who has learned to accept the fact that living in human society demands some compromises. He goes to church, for example, even though it bores him to death; he joins clubs like the Elks and the Rotary, even though he does not like them. They are just part of the web of obligations that he is a part of. Pretending to have affection for his wife and for his elder son (“that son of a bitch”) and his grandchildren is part of the same set of social and familial obligations. Big Daddy does not like this mendacity, but he accepts that it has been necessary, although he now longs to be free of it. He also values the fact that he can at least tell the truth to his favorite son.
Brick, on the other hand, has not learned to accept that life does not measure up to his ideals. Having lost his career and his best friend, he can no longer find meaning in life. He is disillusioned and retreats into himself, with alcohol as his crutch. He also feels guilty that he could not respond in some way to Skipper’s homosexual confession. As Big Daddy helps him to realize, at least part of his disgust is with himself. After all, his rejection of his friend’s confession, his refusal to face the truth, led directly to Skipper’s death. Tennessee Williams suggests in his note (p. 116) that Brick’s disgust with mendacity may be traceable to the fact that the homosexual element in his friendship with Skipper could not be acknowledged: “it had to be disavowed to ‘keep face’ in the world they lived in.” But Williams also suggests that this may only be a partial explanation. Clearly, Brick is also disgusted because what he regarded as a pure friendship was seen by others as something else. He appears not to accept that Skipper was homosexual, and blames Maggie for putting that idea into Skipper’s head.
Whatever the truth is regarding Brick’s response to his friend’s homosexuality, a more general truth about Brick’s nature emerges in this scene. He does not have the mental strength to overcome setbacks. In that respect he is unlike his resilient father and his feisty wife Maggie. Unlike them, he gives up when he should be willing to fight.
Cat On A Hot Tin Roof Summary – Act 3 Part 1
The family tries to get Big Mama to attend the talk with Dr. Baugh, when he will tell her the truth about Big Daddy. Everyone knows the truth now except her. Big Mama has no idea of what is about to happen. She boasts about how healthy Big Daddy’s appetite was at supper, and believes this was because he was relieved after learning that there was nothing wrong with him. Maggie says she will go and get Brick, so they can all talk. Big Mama starts to get worried, and says she doesn’t know what the mysterious family conference is about. But she sees that everyone has a long face.
There is a buzz of conversation. Then Mae says she has a funny feeling that Brick said something to Big Daddy that he should not have done. Big Mama is mystified by this, and Gooper appears about to tell her something, but Mae quickly intervenes to prevent him.
Brick enters, behind Big Mama. She is unaware of him, and starts talking about how Skipper died. Then she turns and sees him. Brick goes to prepare a drink, while his mother says she wishes he wouldn’t; he is breaking her heart.
Mae sits beside Big Mama, while Gooper sits facing her; Reverend Tooker, Dr. Baugh and Maggie are also close, while Brick hobbles to the gallery door. Big Mama wonders why they are all surrounding her. Gooper and Mae tell the doctor that Big Mama wants to know the complete truth about the report from the clinic. Big Mama is terrified, realizing that there may be something she does not know, but she retains her dignity. She says she must know. Dr. Baugh explains that they did some tests on tissue removed from a growth and it tested positive. Big Mama utters the word cancer, and the doctor nods gravely. She gives a gasp and a cry. Dr. Baugh continues, with some help from Mae and Gooper, and explains that the cancer was too advanced for surgery to be of any help.
Big Mama rises from the couch and says she wants Brick; she wants to hear it from Brick. She calls him her only son, which offends Gooper. Mae reminds Big Mama that Gooper is her first-born son, but she replies that he never liked his father.
Big Mama refuses to face the truth; she says it is just a bad dream. Dr. Baugh says that they will keep Big Daddy as comfortable as they can, and Gooper adds that they think Big Daddy ought to be started on morphine, since they believe he is in pain but doesn’t want to admit it. Big Mama says no one is going to give her husband morphine, but the doctor tells her that when the pain hits, he will need it. He says he will leave the equipment with them so they won’t have to send out for it. He exits, while Big Mama still refuses to believe the truth.
Maggie and Mae start to squabble, as Mae alludes to Maggie’s father’s drinking problem, as well as to Brick’s. Maggie denies he has a drinking problem, but Big Mama contradicts her and says they must get Brick straightened out because otherwise it will break Big Daddy’s heart. She also seems to hint that Brick will inherit the plantation, which alarms Mae and Gooper.
Gooper tries to explain that he has always loved Big Daddy. Mae points out that since Gooper is eight years older than Brick he has had to carry more responsibility. Big Mama contradicts this assertion, saying that Gooper only ever had to help Big Daddy with a few business details. Mae denies this, saying that Gooper has devoted himself for the last five years to the upkeep of the property. She compares him unfavorably to Brick, who was living on past glories. Maggie, Mae and Gooper fall to quarreling, and tempers rise. Gooper then admits that he has always resented the fact that Big Daddy has favored Brick over him. He speaks bluntly about the advanced state of his father’s illness, and says he knows how to protect his own interests.
Act 3 Part 1 Analysis
This part of the scene focuses on the revelation to Big Mama of the truth of Big Daddy’s condition. Although Big Mama finds it very hard to accept what she is told, she does acquire some dignity-a quality that certainly would not have been associated with her up to this point. This is made explicit in the stage directions. When she realizes there is something she has not been told, “Big Mama has a dignity . . . she almost stops being fat.” (p. 144).
The telling of the truth to Big Mama also brings out the truth of the family situation that up to this moment has been veiled: the struggle between Gooper and Mae, on the one hand, and Maggie on the other, for the inheritance. Gooper and Mae reveal their true colors here. They are both eager-far too eager-for Big Mama to hear the news, so they can advance their plan to secure control of the property. Gooper reveals the ugliness in his personality when he says, “with grim relish” (p. 136), that he hopes Big Daddy does not have to pay later on for all the food he ate at supper. In a display of hypocrisy, Mae fakes affection for Big Mama, rushing up to her and giving her a hug and a kiss. When the doctor is about to talk about the facts of Big Daddy’s condition, Mae encourages him “eagerly” (p. 143). Both Mae and Gooper are eager for Big Daddy to receive morphine injections, which will dull his mind and make it easier for their plan to work. They cloak their motivation by pretending that they only have Big Daddy’s welfare at heart.
For her part, Big Mama clearly shows her preference for Brick over Gooper and Mae. She pushes Mae away and wants only to see Brick. Thus the battle lines are drawn between the two factions, and it is unclear which side will prevail.
Cat On A Hot Tin Roof Summary – Act 3 Part 2
Brick enters, and Mae and Gooper mock him. Gooper then presents Big Mama with some legal papers he wants her to sign. The papers would leave Gooper and Mae in charge of Big Daddy’s estate after (or perhaps even before) his death. Big Mama refuses even to look at them. She says that no one will get anything until Big Daddy himself lets go of it.
As a storm brews outside, Big Mama embraces a reluctant Brick, who has remained aloof from the family argument. Big Mama seems to acknowledge for the first time that Big Daddy is dying. She tells Brick that the best thing he could do for Big Daddy would be to produce a grandson for him.
Big Daddy’s voice is heard on the gallery, and then he enters the room. He wants to know what the big discussion was about, and asks about the contents of the envelope that Gooper is putting back into his briefcase, but Gooper will not say. Big Daddy then tells a lewd joke about two elephants in a zoo, and comments that he smells mendacity in the room. He gets Brick to agree with him. Then he addresses some cruel remarks to Big Mama and Maggie.
Margaret kneels at Big Daddy’s feet and announces that she is pregnant. That is her birthday present to Big Daddy, she says. Big Mama rejoices, while Big Daddy tells Gooper that he wants to see his lawyer in the morning. Then he exits, saying he is going up to the roof to survey the plantation before he has to give it up. Big Mama follows him.
Mae says she knows Maggie is lying, but Maggie counters that she has seen one of the best gynecologists in the South. Neither Mae nor Gooper believes her. Mae says that she knows that Brick does not sleep with Maggie.
A cry of agony and rage fills the house, and is then repeated. It comes from Big Daddy.
Mae and Gooper exit angrily, leaving Brick and Maggie alone. Brick is still drinking, and he finally gets that “click” he wants, that makes him feel peaceful. He goes out onto the gallery where he sings a peaceful song. Maggie empties the liquor cabinet and follows him out. Then they both return. She turns out all the lights except the one by the bed. She says she really has seen a doctor and she knows it is the right time of the month for her to conceive. She tells him she has removed all his liquor, and that that night they are going to make the lie she has told come true. When they’ve done that, she says, she will bring the liquor back and they will get drunk together. Brick has nothing to say as she turns out the light. Maggie says she loves him, and he replies with the enigmatic remark that echoes his father’s words in the previous Act, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that was true?”
Act 3 Part 2 Analysis
Most scenes in the play contain examples of dramatic irony, and this last scene is no exception. With the exception of Brick, who knows otherwise, the family believes that Big Daddy still does not know that he is dying of cancer. But of course he does, because Brick told him. So when Big Daddy stomps around the room talking about “mendacity,” no one but Brick knows what he is talking about.
In spite of everything that has happened, mendacity has not been eliminated from the family. Maggie shows she is prepared to lie to get what she wants, although she has every intention of making the lie come true. Brick seems to be willing to go along with her plan, without embracing it with any enthusiasm. In spite of the cathartic encounter with his father in the previous Act, he does not seem to have changed much. In this Act, he remains on the sidelines, gradually getting drunk and refusing to offer his mother the support she needs. When it comes to making love to Maggie, it seems that he has finally given up trying to resist her. She has proved to be the stronger of the two, and it is her will that prevails. She is the tenacious cat that has managed to stay on the hot tin roof.