Cat on a Hot Tin Roof | Study Guide

Tennessee Williams

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Course Hero. "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Study Guide." Course Hero. 12 Jan. 2017. Web. 22 July 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Cat-on-a-Hot-Tin-Roof/>.

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Course Hero. "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Study Guide." January 12, 2017. Accessed July 22, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Cat-on-a-Hot-Tin-Roof/.

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Course Hero, "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Study Guide," January 12, 2017, accessed July 22, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Cat-on-a-Hot-Tin-Roof/.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof | Act 2 | Summary

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Summary

The play's action is continuous from Act 1 to Act 2. Big Daddy, Gooper, Mae, and Reverend Tooker join Brick and Maggie in the bedroom to celebrate Big Daddy's birthday. Big Mama enters, calling for her "precious baby" Brick. Big Daddy seems to be disgusted by Big Mama. Servants bring in a huge birthday cake, and everyone sings happy birthday. Then Mae and Gooper's kids sing a cloyingly sweet song for Big Daddy. Big Mama cries tears of joy because she thinks Big Daddy doesn't have cancer. After Brick refuses to give Big Daddy his present, Maggie opens the present and shows fake surprise about the gift. Big Daddy asks Brick how he broke his ankle, wondering if he got the injury by chasing after women. Brick says he broke his ankle by jumping hurdles when he was drunk.

Big Mama's cheerful behavior angers Big Daddy, and he tells her to stop it. When she objects, Big Daddy accuses her of gradually taking control of the estate during the past few years when she thought he was dying. Her fake cheerfulness disgusts him. Upset, Big Mama joins the other partyers on the gallery. Big Daddy calls for Brick, who enters from the gallery holding a glass of liquor. Brick tells Big Daddy that Maggie and Mae are both nervous about not inheriting the estate. Confident about being cancer-free, Big Daddy says the two women will have to wait a while. Big Daddy compliments Mae on being a good breeder. He then catches Mae eavesdropping by the gallery doors and kicks her out. Big Daddy wonders if Brick quit his job as a sports announcer because of his drinking problem. Brick says he just realized he couldn't do the job well any more.

Big Daddy recalls his trip with Big Mama to Europe. She went on a spending spree, buying loads of stuff. Big Daddy figures people buy so much with the hope of somehow buying everlasting life. Brick wants to leave, saying that his talks with Big Daddy never amount to much. Big Daddy confesses that he felt terror when he thought he was dying. But now the laboratory report has given Big Daddy a new lease on life. He plans to throw scruples to the wind and have affairs with women. When the phone rings, Big Mama goes through the room to answer it. Brick tries to leave again, but Big Daddy tells him to stay put. Big Daddy then prevents Big Mama from entering the room again. Brick complains about not getting the click yet from drinking alcohol that makes him peaceful. Big Daddy tells Brick that he's an alcoholic, and Brick agrees.

Brick again wants to leave. Big Daddy tosses away Brick's crutch to prevent him from going. Brick tells Big Daddy to hand him his crutch, but Big Daddy says he won't until Brick explains why he drinks so much. Brick finally admits he drinks because of disgust. Big Daddy then uses the enticement of a drink to get Brick to admit that he's disgusted with mendacity, or lying. Big Daddy wonders who's been lying to his son. Brick explains that it's not one person but "the whole—thing."

Big Daddy says he's lived with mendacity his entire life. He pretends to care for Big Mama when he hates her. Also, he pretends to love Gooper, Mae, and their kids when he can't stand them. Brick says he copes with mendacity by drinking. Big Daddy replies, "That's not living, that's dodging away from life." When he thought he was dying, Big Daddy often debated whether to give his estate to Brick or to Mae and Gooper. Brick says he doesn't care and starts to leave. Big Daddy tells him to wait. Then Big Daddy says Brick started to drink after Skipper died. Brick asks if Big Daddy is suggesting his friendship with Skipper was homosexual. Big Daddy tries to reassure Brick, saying he understands that some men have homosexual feelings for each other. Brick is horrified that his father believes him to be gay. Brick insists he had a deep friendship with Skipper, which was clean and decent. Big Daddy wonders why Skipper cracked up.

Brick recounts Maggie's story about accusing Skipper of having homosexual feeling for Brick. Big Daddy, though, claims that Brick is leaving something out of the story. Brick admits that Skipper called him and made a drunken confession about his homosexual feelings for him. In response, Brick just hung up. Soon after this, Skipper died from drinking too much. Big Daddy accuses Brick of pushing Skipper to his grave instead of facing the truth with him. Brick claims no one can face the truth. For instance, relatives and friends are wishing Big Daddy many happy returns when they know he's dying of cancer. Stunned, Big Daddy leaves the room, yelling, "Yes, all liars, all liars, all lying dying liars!"

Analysis

In Act 2, through the relationship of Brick and Big Daddy, Tennessee Williams explores the theme of delusion and artifice, especially in relation to the theme of lack of communication. Big Daddy and Brick each live a life enveloped in delusion and artifice. For example, Big Daddy stays married to Big Mama, even though he has hated her for the past 40 years. He constantly had to convey the artifice of caring for her. Brick lives with the artifice of having a sexually active marriage, even though he hasn't slept with Maggie for quite a while. Also, Brick has avoided dealing with his feelings toward Skipper, thereby deluding himself. Even their conversation is a lie, circling the truths that each wants to tell the other. Big Daddy and Brick have both decided to go along with the socially acceptable ways of behaving at the expense of their own integrity.

Also, Brick and Big Daddy are each paralyzed in their world of delusion and artifice because of their lack of communication. Throughout his talk with Big Daddy, Brick often refers to this poor communication. Brick says to Big Daddy, "We talk, you talk, in—circles! We get no where." Big Daddy agrees with Brick and knows he must break through this wall of miscommunication to arrive at the truth about Brick and his alcoholism. Big Daddy keeps insisting that Brick stay in the room and talk about why he drinks. In fact, at one point Big Daddy takes away Brick's crutch to prevent him from leaving. As shown in the previous act, Williams uses this crutch as a symbol of Brick's dependency on alcohol to cope with life. By taking away the crutch, Big Daddy is trying to force Brick to let go of his coping mechanism and look at himself honestly.

The lack of real communication is situationally ironic, given the lack of privacy in the house. For instance, Mae and Gooper often can hear through the walls what Maggie and Brick talk about. Mae and Gooper then convey this information to Big Mama, which influences her behavior toward Maggie and Brick. Because of this, Big Mama suspects that Maggie and Brick are having trouble in bed and scolds Maggie. However, the communication gathered in this way is not direct, but circular, which leads to hard feelings, misunderstandings, and the concealment of the truth. In addition, Brick and Big Daddy have difficulty conversing because of constant interruptions, including Mae's eavesdropping and Big Mama's answering the phone.

Eventually, Big Daddy succeeds in breaking through Brick's defenses, thereby exposing his son's homophobia. When this happens, Brick again shows his fear of facing his feelings for Skipper. Eventually, Brick admits Skipper confessed his homosexual feelings for Brick during a phone call. In response, Brick hung up on his friend, just as he cuts off his feelings through the use of alcohol. When Big Daddy accuses Brick of not facing the truth with Skipper, Bricks replies, "His truth, not mine!" Even after the death of Skipper, Brick still focuses on defending himself from being homosexual instead of admitting his culpability in Skipper's death.

Readers might wonder what causes Brick's extreme homophobia. The answer partly lies in Brick's success in his social milieu. Brick had become the golden boy of his world. He was a star football player, admired by men and desired by women. In this world, Brick accepted his lofty position with a calm grace. Williams shows this with Brick's calm confidence while making love with Maggie; also, Maggie and Skipper each longed for Brick's love but he remained inaccessible to them, a "godlike being." Brick witnessed an extreme case of social ostracization in his fraternity for homosexual behavior; however, he is also aware of a socially sanctioned instance of homosexuality in the owners of the farm his father purchased. His choice to focus on the former and not the latter shows that he does not think of himself as belonging to his father's admittedly crude world, a world in which animals rut, people copulate, and children run wild. Maggie's confrontation with Skipper forced him to acknowledge the earthliness of his own existence, and he has resented her for it ever since.

In Act 2, Williams also develops the theme of delusion and artifice with other characters. For example, Mae and Gooper have their children sing a phony song to Big Daddy, during which the kids profess their "love" for their grandfather. However, Big Daddy knows this song is just an act to persuade him to leave his estate to Mae and Gooper. In this scene, the children are again used as a symbol of trickery and deceit. Big Daddy is so accustomed to living in a world of artifice that he even accuses his wife of conspiring against him: "Because I'm not gonna die, you can just stop now this business of taking over." Her insistence that she has always loved him comes as something of a shock to him, forcing him to reevaluate their lives together.

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Williams seems to be implying that most people live lives of delusion and artifice fueled by lying. For the author, this mendacity is often an effort by people to defeat death and obtain life everlasting here on Earth. Big Daddy says a man buys things because "he has the crazy hope that one of his purchases will be life everlasting!" Buying things creates a self-deception of defeating death. Indeed, many of the characters lie in a futile effort to escape death. Big Mama unquestioningly accepts the doctor's story about her husband not having cancer. Big Daddy also accepts this story, even though deep down he suspects it's not true. Also, Big Daddy is tempted to pass his estate on to Mae and Gooper because they have children who will keep Big Daddy's legacy alive, but this is also a deception. Even if Mae and Gooper inherit the estate, Big Daddy will die. In addition, Brick tries to maintain the illusion of his friendship with Skipper as being noble and pure instead of being a heart-wrenching relationship that led to death.

Williams continues to develop the theme of cruelty by depicting Big Daddy's cruelty toward Big Mama. Because Big Daddy hates Big Mama, he treats her harshly. However, this cruelty stems from his own disgust for himself. Big Daddy kept up the pretense of caring for Big Mama for many years. His own hypocrisy causes him to lash out at his wife.

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