Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a classical Tennessee Williams’ play that examines the themes of an unhappy marriage, social hypocrisy, sexual repression, and masculinity crisis. It follows an unhappily married couple, Brick and Maggie, as they attempt to navigate the rocky phase of their union, Brick’s alcoholism, and the relationship with Brick’s domineering father. Conveniently referred to as Big Daddy, he is a cotton baron whose terminate stage cancer causes all of his children to attempt to please him for their gain. This paper aims to provide a character study of Brick, an aging football hero struggling with alcohol abuse and the aftermath of his close friend’s suicide. It argues that his addiction issues, grief, and internal conflict are instrumental to the play’s exploration of day-by-day lies and a sense of dissatisfaction.
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The play portrays Brick as a sorrowful, broken man, indifferent to the deterioration of his marriage and the current state of his family’s financial affairs. The character is deeply troubled by the persistent mendacity and suffocation of life, with liquor being his “one way out” (Williams, 953). Throughout the play, he repeatedly condemns his family members for lying to each other and themselves. Yet Brick is engaged in a similar vicious cycle of wilfully ignoring the truth about himself, avoiding confrontation with Maggie and Big Daddy for as long as he can. Functionally it is achieved through Brick distancing himself from Big Daddy’s birthday party: in the unusual, for the central character, manner, he avoids the ongoing action until the play’s catharsis.
Brick’s relationship with his late friend and a fellow football player, Skipper, is essential for understanding his character and his narrative role in the play. Skipper’s suicide has caused Brick severe, lasting distress and is the main reason behind his indifference and drinking problem in the eyes of other characters. Subtle insinuations culminate in a confrontation scene with Brick’s wife Maggie, who addresses her suspicions about the homoerotic relationship between the two men, calling it “that thing with Skipper” (Williams, 908). The play never confirms or fully denounces the existence of such a relationship, which furthers the topic of casual lies and half-truths that Williams is examining. Yet Brick’s reaction to his wife’s questions is somewhat telling, as he refuses to discuss Skipper with anyone, keeping his name as a taboo topic. Whether there is something to address or not, Brick avoids the conversation and any potentially uncomfortable truths associated with it.
In contrast with his potentially repressed feelings for Skipper, Brick refuses to participate in other carefully maintained illusions related to Big Daddy’s health and Maggie’s pregnancy. Brick – is “a broken golden boy” (Holder 81) who has given in to the addiction and despair, quietly giving up on life. In a way, his quiet contempt for his lifestyle and family might be interpreted as an exploration of the traditional masculinity crisis. Big Daddy attempts to rebuild his relationship with Brick, a former emblematic son and sports prodigy, throughout the play. Maggie also tries to address her dissatisfaction with him and with their lifeless, sexless marriage. A beautiful and sensual woman, repeatedly indirectly compared to a cat in temper and grace, she has married into a wealthy family to escape the poverty of her own home. Yet as her fairy tale turns sour, Brick cannot sympathize; for one reason or another, he had given up on their relationship before it even began.
During most of the play’s action, Brick rarely even participates in the performance of the plot. An inversion of the traditional main character, he remains off-action most of the time, singing softly and drinking himself into oblivion. In all three of the central relationships in the play, Brick cannot or chooses not to engage with honestly. His feelings for Skipper, whichever those may be, were unaddressed up to becoming functionally meaningless. Whether there was a repressed emotional connection present there or not is longer critical, with Skipper being dead. However, this relationship fuels Brick’s anger at his father and wife, with Brick revealing that his father is dying of cancer to avoid the topic once again. Brick is profoundly, deeply dissatisfied, and detached from his family, having difficulty performing and tolerating affection (Holder 82). In this, he is similar to many struggling post-war soldiers who were too traumatized by their horrendous experiences to maintain functioning connections with those around them.
To conclude, Brick is an excellent, heart-breaking portrayal of a man overwhelmed by tragedy and internal conflict. He is potentially closeted, deeply isolated from his family, and unwilling to address his causal lies, despite condemning others for doing the same. Brick engages in self-destruction and excessive drinking to escape the subjectively painful reality of the slow downfall of his previously golden life. Arguably, Brick’s privileged position and previous successes make his current state even more unbearable and utilize the contrasts to strengthen the play’s message.
Holder, Rebecca. “Making the Lie True: Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Truth as Performance”. The Southern Quaterly, vol. 53, no.2, 2016.
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Williams, Tennessee. “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”. Tennessee Williams: Plays 1937 – 1955, edited by Kenneth Holditch, Mel Gussow. New Directions Publishing, 2000.