Academia

Familial Flaws in Tennessee Williams’s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”

Amidst the “mendacity” and fragility of his life, Brick, deuteragonist of Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, faces immurement by the figurative hands of his marriage. This is not out of a lack of love for Margaret, however, but for a discontent with the way in which she treats him. For Margaret sees Brick “as a boy”; she behaves unnecessarily possessive, claiming and demeaning him through epithets such as “boy of mine” and “baby”. She refuses to accept that her “college days”, and subsequent impudent relationships, are long gone. Rather, like “a cat on a hot tin roof”, she “holds on” as long as she can to the past, thus further “magnifying” the projections she makes onto Brick. As though viewing life through a “mirror”, she sees only herself, behaves as such – with little to no regard of others, let alone her very husband. Constantly she reminds Brick of Skipper, a figure present in their youth, yet remains inattentive to the fact that such reminiscences wound him. Except that it is not possible for her to even acknowledge his pain, as her epithets for him presuppose that she still sees him as childish and immature and incapable of adult emotion.

Contrastingly, then, is Big Daddy, who addresses his son, Brick, not as a boy, but a man. Unafraid of broaching the stereotypically ‘manly’ topic of the “shape…[and] look” of “women” with Brick, it is evident that, unlike Margaret, Big Daddy recognises and speaks to Brick as an adult. Subsequently, Brick does not dismiss him. Their dialogue in the second passage is notably written without stage directions, implying that their conversation transpires almost organically. Brick’s exchange with Margaret, however, is copiously ‘scripted’, from sweeping generalisations, to the most menial detail of the “[straightening of] an eyelash”. Nevertheless, this is not to say that Brick does not feel some degree of immurement when in the company of his father. It is Big Daddy’s expectations which imprison Brick, render him unable to “hobble away from his father’s steady, grave attention”. Big Daddy, considering his other son Gooper a disappointment aside from the fact that he married a “fertile” “good breeder”, focuses unwaveringly on Brick. These are attentions which Brick does not want, as from such attentions arise the realisation that Brick may potentially be a “queer”, and from this realisation arises incessant questioning, the reminder of the “great good thing” which is no longer a fixture in Brick’s life. Brick thus leans on his stoicism – when it is stripped away, he is “without his crutch”, exposed and vulnerable to all that it has protected him from.

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