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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof | Study Guide

Tennessee Williams

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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Act 1, what does Maggie's use of the phrase no-neck monsters reveal about her character?

By using the phrase no-neck monsters, Maggie reveals her honesty. She has no qualms about saying exactly how she feels to Brick, even though these feelings could be viewed as harsh. Also, Maggie shows her jealousy of Gooper and Mae for having children. Maggie and Brick are childless. So, Maggie mocks Gooper watching his wife giving birth by saying, "He would not miss ... the 'wonder and beauty' of it ... producin' those no-neck monsters." In addition, Maggie conveys her disdain for Gooper and Mae for displaying their "no-neck monsters" in front of Big Daddy to persuade him to leave them the estate.

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, why might Tennessee Williams have Brick break his ankle jumping hurdles?

Tennessee Williams had Brick break his ankle jumping hurdles to emphasize how Brick is trying to hang on to the glory of his past. Brick was a star athlete and football player in college. These years seemed to have been the highlight of Brick's life, as he and his close friend and teammate Skipper led the Ole Miss football team to glory. Along with his college years, Brick idealized his friendship with Skipper and refuses to tarnish these memories. So, jumping hurdles could be seen as a futile attempt to relive those times. Breaking an ankle in such a silly way shows the effect of Brick's alcoholism. Brick was intoxicated when he attempted to jump the hurdles.

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Act 1, for what reason might Tennessee Williams have Brick retain his good looks despite his heavy drinking?

By having Brick remain good-looking, Tennessee Williams intensifies the sexual frustration of Maggie. If Brick's drinking made him overweight and debauched looking, Maggie would have much less desire to make love with her husband. However, Brick's attractiveness makes him like a luscious piece of fruit just out of Maggie's reach. The result is torturous for Maggie. Also, Brick's attractiveness makes him seem more like an idol or god that is unaffected by normal things. In fact, Maggie refers to him as being similar to a Greek legend. Brick himself supports this view by idealizing his relationship with Skipper as something noble.

How does Tennessee Williams use figurative language in Maggie's speech about Brick's silence concerning Skipper in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Act 1?

Tennessee Williams uses figurative language through the phrases laws of silence and house on fire. By comparing Brick's unwillingness to talk about Skipper to laws of silence, Maggie is implying that Brick is adhering to an unwritten rule of society. This rule states that unpleasant things should not be talked about, especially subjects as upsetting as homosexuality. However, the result of these "laws of silence" leads to the second figurative phrase; namely, house on fire. By using the laws of silence, Brick is causing his homophobia about Skipper to grow like a "house on fire," which threatens to burn down Maggie and Brick's marriage. Also, Maggie refers to Brick's repressed homophobia as malignant because it spreads like fire. By doing this, Maggie draws a connection to Big Daddy's cancer, which she mentioned at the beginning of her speech. Brick's silence could be seen as an illness or disease that leads to death.

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Act 1, why might Tennessee Williams have Brick refuse to sign Big Daddy's birthday card?

Brick says he doesn't want to sign Big Daddy's birthday card because he doesn't want to fool his father. By this, Brick means he doesn't want to pretend that he remembered Big Daddy's birthday when he didn't. So, Tennessee Williams is stressing a type of honesty that Brick demonstrates. Brick feels detached from his father and doesn't want to pretend that he isn't. Signing the card might make Big Daddy hope that his relationship with Brick is on the mend when it isn't. In addition, Brick knows Big Daddy is dying of cancer. So, perhaps Brick does not want to pretend that Big Daddy will have many more birthdays when he knows this will be the last one. By having Brick refuse to sign the card, Williams also stresses the difference between Maggie and Brick. Maggie is willing to put up with the family's hypocrisy to get what she wants. She wants Brick to sign the card, but Brick is unwilling to play the game. Brick wants to remain pure, while Maggie doesn't mind getting dirty.

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Act 1, for what purpose might Tennessee Williams have Maggie win an archery trophy?

Tennessee Williams uses the trophy as a symbol for Maggie. The name of the trophy is the Diana Trophy. Diana was the Roman goddess of the hunt. She was highly skilled at using a bow and arrow to kill her prey. In a symbolic way, Maggie is also skilled at using an arrow to kill her prey. For Maggie, the arrow is truth. She uses truth as a weapon to defeat people or get them to do what she wants. For example, when Maggie confronted Skipper about having homosexual feelings for Brick, she uses truth as a weapon to break up Skipper's relationship with Brick. Because Skipper couldn't handle this truth, he goes on a drinking binge and dies. Maggie refers to this, saying, "Who shot cock robin? I with my—merciful arrow!"

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, how do the telephone conversations with Miss Sally convey the theme of lack of communication?

Tennessee Williams uses two telephone conversations with Miss Sally. In Act 1, Big Mama has difficulty being heard by Miss Sally over the phone. Apparently, Miss Sally is calling from a busy hotel lobby. In fact, even when Big Mama shouts, she cannot communicate clearly. This situation represents what often happens in the Pollitt household. Many people are talking and, at times, shouting at each other without really communicating. For example, Margaret shouts about her sexual frustration at Brick, but he tries to block out her message. Frustrated, Big Mama gives the phone to Margaret, who does communicate successfully by just enunciating clearly. Williams shows Maggie as the only character who communicates well. She has no qualms about being direct and clear with people, even if doing so makes them uncomfortable. In Act 2, Big Mama goes through the bedroom to answer the phone. By doing this, she disrupts the serious talk between Brick and Big Daddy. Big Mama could have taken a different route to answer the phone. However, she didn't do this because she intentionally wanted to interrupt the communication between her husband and her son. To prevent this interruption from happening again, Big Daddy stops Big Mama from returning through the bedroom.

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, how are Maggie's speech about people fooling themselves about death and Big Daddy's speech about buying things similar and different?

Both Maggie's speech and Big Daddy's speech deal with how people delude themselves about death. Also, both speeches convey how people try to obtain immortality here on Earth instead of in the afterlife. Maggie focuses on the attempt to delude people who are dying, such as doctors lying to Big Daddy about not having cancer. In contrast, Big Daddy explores how people attempt to delude themselves about death, specifically by buying things. Big Daddy states, "Reason [a man] buys everything ... is ... hope that one of his purchases will be life everlasting!" For example, when she was on vacation with Big Daddy, Big Mama bought so much stuff that half of it remains in storage.

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Act 1, what does Maggie view as a fatal error, and why does she have this viewpoint?

Maggie believes that she made a fatal error when she told Brick about Skipper trying to have sex with her. She believes this revelation was a mistake, because afterward, Brick stopped having sex with her and started to drink heavily. Maggie did not take into account the strength of Brick's homophobia. She thought confronting Skipper about his homosexual feelings for Brick would break up the friendship between Skipper and Brick. As a result, Maggie would have Brick to herself. However, because of Brick's homophobia, he had to completely cut off his relationship with Skipper, leading to Skipper's death. Then, as a way of punishing Maggie for confronting Skipper, Brick distances himself from her.

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Act 1, how does Skipper's viewpoint regarding homosexuality contribute to his death?

Skipper and Brick viewed their close friendship as something noble, decent, and clean. They had this view to make their relationship socially acceptable. If either one of them admitted to having homosexual feelings, this would make their relationship dirty, according to society's standards. Doing this would make them perverts or degenerates in the eyes of society, which is completely contrary to their self-image of being athletic heroes. Skipper did have homosexual feelings for Brick, but he could not accept these feelings. When he finally admitted his feelings to Brick and Brick rejected him, Skipper went on a drinking binge, thereby, in essence, killing himself. Margaret says, "Death was the only icebox where you could keep it [Brick and Skipper's relationship]."

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