Cat on a Hot Tin Roof | Study Guide

Tennessee Williams

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Course Hero. "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Study Guide." January 12, 2017. Accessed September 29, 2023.


Course Hero, "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Study Guide," January 12, 2017, accessed September 29, 2023,

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof | Act 3 | Summary



The play's action is continuous from Act 2 to Act 3. Big Daddy leaves the room, yelling "ALL—LYIN'—DYIN'—LIARS! LIARS! LIARS!" Maggie, Mae, Gooper, Reverend Tooker, and Doctor Baugh join Brick in the room. Maggie wonders what was going on between Brick and Big Daddy. Mae says it's time for Doctor Baugh to tell Big Mama the truth about Big Daddy having cancer. Brick goes out onto the gallery. Big Mama comes in and wonders what everyone wants to talk about. Maggie goes onto the gallery to fetch Brick. Big Mama gets more and more suspicious about this impending family talk. Soon, Brick and Maggie enter from the gallery. Brick immediately gets a drink, even though Big Mama asks him not to.

Maggie wants Brick to sit by Big Mama, but he refuses. Mae, Gooper, Reverend Tooker, and Doctor Baugh surround Big Mama and hint ominously about Big Daddy's condition. Brick goes back onto the gallery. Big Mama yells, "Somebody must be lyin'!—I want to know!" Doctor Baugh hesitantly tells Big Mama that Big Daddy does have cancer. Big Mama can't believe the news and calls for Brick. Mae and Gooper make snide remarks about Big Mama calling Brick her only son. Reverend Tooker quietly leaves. Gooper then suggests that Big Daddy be started on morphine. Big Mama refuses to let this happen. Doctor Baugh places morphine on the table and then quickly leaves. Big Mama implies that Big Daddy is going to leave the estate to Brick, which upsets Gooper and Mae. Gooper tells Big Mama about the need for her to be realistic. Leaving the estate to Brick would be irresponsible. Mae gets Gooper's briefcase, which contains papers concerning the estate.

Mae talks to Big Mama about how Gooper has given "himself body and soul" to keep up the estate. Also, Mae demeans Brick as a washed-up football player. Maggie accuses Mae and Gooper of vilifying Brick because of their greed to get the estate. Mae blurts out that Maggie is childless because Brick won't sleep with her. Then Gooper claims he doesn't care if Big Daddy likes him or not. He's just asking for what's fair concerning the estate. When Brick enters from the gallery, Mae and Gooper mock him. Gooper has put together a preliminary trusteeship, which would give him control of the estate. Disgusted by Gooper's plan, Big Mama says, "Nobody's goin' to take nothin'!" Big Mama calls for Brick, but her son just gets another drink. She pleads for members of her family to love each other and hugs Brick.

Big Daddy enters and wonders what people are arguing about. He notices Gooper stuff the preliminary trusteeship in his briefcase and asks what it is. Nervous, Gooper says it's nothing. Big Daddy tells a joke about a male elephant smelling the potent fertility of a female elephant. He then says he can smell the "odor of mendacity in this room." Brick agrees. Maggie says she has a big birthday present for Big Daddy and announces that she's pregnant. Big Daddy looks her over and says, "Girl has life in her body." Big Daddy says he's going on the roof to look over his estate before he gives it up. Big Daddy leaves, and Big Mama follows him. Mae accuses Maggie of lying. Maggie says she's been to a gynecologist but won't name him. Angry, Mae and Gooper leave. Brick downs three shots of alcohol and feels the click that makes him peaceful. When Brick goes onto the gallery, Maggie gathers all his liquor bottles and locks them up. Brick returns, and Maggie says it's a good time for her to conceive. She tells him about locking up the liquor. She'll unlock it after Brick has sex with her. Brick is amazed at what Maggie has done. She throws away Brick's crutch and says, "Tonight we're going to make the lie true." Maggie approaches Brick by the bed and says she loves him. Brick replies, "Wouldn't it be funny if that was true?"


In Act 3, Tennessee Williams uses cruelty as an overarching theme that encompasses the themes of delusion and artifice, and lack of communication. Throughout the act, many of the characters behave in a cruel manner. Much of this cruelty is directed at Big Mama. First Mae, Gooper, Reverend Tooker, and Doctor Baugh treat Big Mama inconsiderately by dragging out the news about Big Daddy really having cancer. This prolonged revelation seems like a form of torture. At one point, Big Mama screams, "I!!!—want to—knowwwwww ... Somebody must be lyin'!—I want to know!" To make matters worse, after Big Mama learns the bad news, Mae and Gooper hit her with a plan to take control of the estate. With Big Mama still reeling from the realization that her husband will soon die, Gooper almost forces her to listen to his greedy aspirations. Brick treats his mother cruelly through his detachment. Sensing something is not right, Big Mama often calls on Brick for support. However, her son ignores her pleas as he keeps drinking liquor. In fact, he tries as much as possible not to be in the same room as his mother by escaping to the gallery.

Gooper and Mae's cruelty is also directed at Brick. When Brick enters from the gallery, Gooper and Mae mock him, calling him the conquering hero and saying he plays in the punch bowl. Also, to the last, Brick takes a cruel attitude toward Maggie. When she tells him that she loves him, Brick says, "Wouldn't it be funny if that was true?" So, even if Maggie succeeds in having sex with Brick, he will still most likely continue to view her with disdain and keep himself emotionally detached.

The only character who shows compassion is Maggie. After Big Mama learns that her husband has cancer, Maggie shows genuine affection for her. Maggie seems to realize more compassion is needed in the Pollitt family when she says, "Understanding is needed on this place." In addition, Maggie's locking up the liquor could be seen as an act of love for Brick. She desperately wants Brick to give up drinking and is willing to take extreme measures to accomplish this.

Cruelty comes to the forefront in this act because some of the characters reveal their selfish motives, especially Mae and Gooper. In a sense, in this act some of the delusion and artifice give way to truth. For example, Gooper at first tries to convince Big Mama to agree to the preliminary trusteeship by emphasizing the work he has done to keep up the estate during Big Daddy's illness. Gooper is implying that because of his devotion to Big Daddy, he should be the person to take charge of the estate after his father dies. However, Gooper eventually discards this facade. He says, "I don't give a goddam if Big Daddy likes me or don't." He goes on to say that he "resented Big Daddy's partiality to Brick." Maggie also becomes more truthful when she bluntly states that Mae and Gooper are vilifying Brick for their own greedy purposes. Even Big Mama begins to speak truth when she says she's disgusted with Mae and Gooper's plans to control the estate. However, because truth has often been suppressed, it tends to burst out in harsh, cruel ways. For instance, when Mae and Gooper mock Brick, they are showing their honest lack of respect for him. But because these feelings have been mostly bottled up and fueled by resentment, they take the form of mean-spirited jokes. People's lack of honest communication for long periods makes it difficult for them to tell the truth in a way that enhances communication.

The mixing of lies and truth culminates at the end of Act 3. Maggie has lied about being pregnant. However, because she knows it's a good time for her to conceive, Maggie believes she can turn this lie into truth. Maggie says to Brick, "And so tonight we're going to make the lie true." Maggie might succeed with her plan. Brick seems willing to have sex with her to get his liquor back, and appears to be impressed with her final desperate act in this play-long scheme of persistence. Also, although the symbol of a cat on a hot tin roof is not mentioned much in Act 3, Maggie conveys the meaning of this symbol at the act's close. By lying about being pregnant and locking up Brick's liquor, Maggie shows her determination to stay on the hot tin roof to get the estate and her husband's love. The symbol of the crutch plays an important role in this last scene. When Brick attempts to grab his crutch, Maggie throws it over the gallery's railing. Maggie, therefore, is attempting to discard Brick's dependence on alcohol with the hope that he will turn to her for support. She says, "Oh ... you weak, beautiful people ... what you want is someone to ... take hold of you," implying that her commitment to honesty and love have redemptive powers.

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