Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Characterize the relationship between the Pollitt brothers.

    Brick is eight years the junior of Gooper, and has always been coddled and adored as the baby of the family. There is a sibling rivalry, but it is entirely one-sided. Gooper is threatened by the universal adoration for Brick and resents his little brother's ability to succeed and be loved without doing anything to deserve it. Brick, on the other hand, barely notices Gooper's existence. As in all Brick's relationships, it is the other party who has the strong emotions.

  2. 2

    A recent Broadway production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof broke from tradition by having an entirely African American cast. How would the play be different if Williams had intended the characters to be African-American?

    Most significantly, it is difficult to imagine a black planter achieving Big Daddy's sort of financial success in the mid-century South. Accompanying that, the tensions and conflicts of the play are entirely internal to the family – there are no outside threats. In this time and place, a wealthy black family with questionable lines of inheritance would face an entirely different set of social and legal pressures regarding the land and wealth. To deal with these issues, the production in question moved the time frame of the play to an unspecified later period, in which their race would not affect their wealth.

  3. 3

    Maggie thinks that announcing her pregnancy will solve all her problems. Is she right?

    Quite possibly. The one thing holding Brick and Maggie back from full possession of the Pollitt estate after Big Daddy's death is their lack of an heir – if Big Daddy thinks that a baby is on the way when he's writing his will, that concern will be eliminated. But Maggie also knows that a sham pregnancy can't last long without being found out or proven true, so she is banking on Brick's obligation to make the lie a truth, in order to satisfy her own desire. The question now is whether Brick will be willing to or physically capable of pushing through his haze of liquor and disgust for successful procreation.

  4. 4

    Tennessee Williams chose to compress the staged action of this play into a single night, but the story itself has a much longer range. When does this story begin and end?

    The story begins with the death of Skipper – or perhaps even the night Maggie and Skipper sleep together. It encompasses Brick's ensuing ennui and Maggie's growing desperation; the years of Big Daddy's illness; and the night shown in the play itself. The ending, we can surmise, comes if and when Maggie does have a baby, or when Big Daddy signs his will. But by compressing the action to a single night, Williams succeeds in heightening emotions and forcing the confrontations and angry truths that result in good drama.

  5. 5

    Compare and contrast Big Daddy and Brick.

    The men are portrayed as similar in their relationships to their wives. Both Big Daddy and Brick are married to women who adore and worship them, but who they can't stand. It is their very insouciance, in fact, that makes the women love them. Likewise, both appear to be capable of expressing true affection for only one person – Big Daddy for Brick, and Brick for Skipper. It is the tragedy of the play that none of the affections are mutual. Big Daddy is just as thwarted in his love for his son as Maggie is.

  6. 6

    "It is so damn hard for people to talk to each other," Big Daddy says repeatedly, yet many plain and hurtful words are said in this play. How does Williams manipulate his characters into really talking to one another, when they otherwise would not?

    Brick's silence is a tool by the playwright to allow Maggie and Big Daddy to express some deeply personal and hurtful truths – because he is so unresponsive, they each are able to monologue in his presence, almost like an aria in an opera, as though he weren't really there. Brick, on the other hand, is made truthful by liquor, and Gooper and Mae by overwhelming greed. Big Daddy and Big Mama are also forced to speak plainly by the prospect of death, forcing into the open thoughts and feelings that would otherwise go unsaid.

  7. 7

    Why does Williams give his hero an injury?

    Crippling Brick serves a thematic role as well as being a plot and staging device. On the most basic level, Brick hobbling around the stage on his crutch keeps the long conversations visually interesting, and gives the actor something to work with. As a plot device, Brick's escapades at the school track force everyone's awareness of his alcohol problem. But it also externalizes how Brick his emotionally crippled since the death of Skipper – the damage done to his psyche is just as profound, real, and debilitating as a broken leg.

  8. 8

    Where does Mae fit into the family? Why does she feel threatened?

    Mae married into the Pollitt clan, going from a family with social standing but no money to a family with plenty of cash and a lack of class. But she's a striver, and wants to ensure that the money heads eventually in the direction of her brood. On the one hand, she feels like she has more of a claim to being a part of the family than Maggie has, because she has a passel of children who are bonafide Pollitts. Yet she still feels threatened by Maggie's obviously likability and the general preference the parents have for Brick and Maggie over Gooper and Mae.

  9. 9

    Could Cat on a Hot Tin Roof be rewritten to take place today, or have social structures changed too much?

    In 1955, when the play was first produced, the majority of women did not work outside the home. Maggie and Mae would have been fully dependent on their husband's wealth, with their only contribution to the advancement of their family being in the form of child-bearing. More to the point is the issue of Brick and Skipper's possible homosexuality – could a man still closet himself to death? Sadly, the answer is yes. Although in many areas the story of Brick and Skipper would be absurd self-delusion, there are still plenty of people who, like Brick, were so thoroughly indoctrinated into a belief in the unnaturalness of homosexuality that they just cannot accept the possibility. Perhaps if we give it another generation, their sad story will no longer be possible.

  10. 10

    The entire play takes place in one unbroken stretch of time, in one room, with an infrequently rotating cast of characters. As the theater is fundamentally a visual medium, how does Williams vary the action and keep things visually interesting?

    In short – he doesn't. Cat is a very difficult play to stage effectively, because of the extreme compression of time and place. The first act is an unbroken conversation between two people, and the second act is mostly an unbroken conversation between two people. But in each pair, one person is Brick, the crippled drunk. The action of Brick hobbling back and forth to the bar, and the various attempts by Maggie and Big Daddy to steal Brick's crutch and physically manipulate him, give a director something to work with in terms of the staging. The frequent interruptions by other characters are also of assistance. But in the end, the burden of creating a visually interesting piece of drama and of fully utilizing the space is left entirely to the cast and director.