Brick Pollitt is in his late 20s and was a star football player in college who was admired by many people in his social circle. Through the course of the play, Brick's homophobia is revealed. This fear surfaces through his relationship with his old college friend Skipper. Skipper had confessed his feelings for Brick; Brick responded by cutting off the friendship. Soon after, Skipper died from drinking too much. Brick's actual sexual orientation remains vague. Brick could be a closeted gay who is afraid to admit his sexuality, or he could be a heterosexual who refuses to explore his affection for Skipper because he fears being gay or being seen as gay. Brick sees his relationship with Skipper as something true and decent. However, by viewing this relationship in such lofty terms, Brick avoids coming to grips with his feelings for his friend. Brick drinks heavily to numb himself from his own disgust. He's disgusted by the lying he sees in society, in his family, and in himself. Brick becomes detached from all human relationships. Also, Brick refuses to have sex with his wife, which could be seen as a punishment for her for confronting Skipper about his feelings for Brick. Brick could also be punishing himself for cutting off his relationship with Skipper, or he could simply be gay and not attracted to Maggie. Brick does not change or develop throughout the play. His detached, cynical attitude remains constant.
Maggie Pollitt is an attractive woman who is determined that her husband will inherit his father's estate. Because she was raised without money, Maggie is focused on achieving this goal. Even though Brick refuses to have sex with her, Maggie stays with him for three reasons. First, she wants to win back Brick's love. Second, she knows a divorce from Brick would prevent her from getting the estate. Third, if she wins back Brick's love, they might have a child, which would increase their chances of inheriting. Tennessee Williams uses the symbol of a cat on a hot tin roof for Maggie. Even though the heat irritates the cat, it remains on the roof. Likewise, despite the irritations, Maggie remains in her marriage with Brick. Maggie is willing to manipulate to get what she wants. For instance, she tries to ignite Brick's jealousy to make him have sex with her. Also, she lies about being pregnant. This lie might prove to be fruitful for Maggie. To make the lie true, she convinces Brick to have sex with her in exchange for liquor. Maggie's basic character remains the same throughout the play. A progression can be seen, however, through her possible success in achieving her goal, and her humor and love make her sympathetic.
Big Daddy Pollitt owns a vast estate in the Mississippi Delta, and he faces a dilemma like the one faced by Shakespeare's King Lear. He does not know which of his two children to leave his estate to. Big Daddy loves Brick and dislikes Gooper. Because of this, he wants to give the estate to Brick. However, Brick has turned into a detached alcoholic and thus could be seen as an irresponsible choice to inherit. Also, Brick and Maggie have no children, which means they would not be able to pass on the estate to any offspring. On the other hand, Gooper and his wife, Mae, have five children. Gooper is a hard-working, responsible lawyer. For years Big Daddy felt pressure to make his decision because he thought he was dying from cancer. This pressure is momentarily relieved when doctors say he is cancer-free. Big Daddy goes through the most change of any character. When he thinks he doesn't have cancer, Big Daddy wants to celebrate by having affairs with women. He also wants Brick to stop drinking and have a child, but thinks he has time for this to happen. Even so, Big Daddy tries to find out from Brick the reason for his drinking and, in the process, learns he does have cancer. As a result, Big Daddy becomes enraged and distraught. His agony is relieved through Maggie's lie about being pregnant. He believes her and intends to make plans for Brick to inherit.
Big Mama Pollitt is the wife of Big Daddy and the mother of Brick and Gooper. She is a loudmouthed, foolish woman who seems devoted to her husband. She is constantly concerned about what Big Daddy wants and how he treats her. According to Big Daddy, Big Mama has a darker side. He claims that she really was looking forward to his death because she would gain control over the estate, so Big Mama's displays of affection for Big Daddy disgust him. For her part, Big Mama tries to be oblivious to her husband's hatred of her. Even when Big Daddy clearly shows his animosity toward her, she has difficulty believing he really means it. So, Big Mama lives in a state of delusion concerning her marriage.
Gooper Pollitt is in his 30s and is the older son of wealthy Big Daddy and Big Mama. He is a hardworking lawyer who seems like a responsible family man. He and his wife, Mae, have five children, and Mae is pregnant with the sixth. Gooper resents his younger brother, Brick. Even though Brick is an irresponsible alcoholic, Big Daddy loves him and dislikes Gooper. Realizing this, Gooper and Mae try to convince Big Daddy that they are devoted to him and thus should inherit the estate. Also, Gooper has a somewhat stressful relationship with Mae. Although both desperately want the estate, they often are antagonistic toward each other in their effort to win over Big Daddy.
Mae Pollitt and her husband, Gooper, have five children, and she is pregnant with the sixth child. She comes from a family that earned a fortune from chain stores. However, Mae and her family came on hard times when the chain collapsed. Mae is a conniver who is determined to get a fortune by convincing Big Daddy to leave her husband the estate. She often eavesdrops on Brick and Maggie and then passes on any news that will disparage the couple to Big Mama. Mae and Gooper try to trick Big Daddy into believing that they are devoted to him. For instance, Mae has her children sing a cloying birthday song to Big Daddy. Mae and Maggie hate each other and often exchange insulting remarks.