Cat on a Hot Tin Roof | Study Guide

Tennessee Williams

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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, how does the play answer Big Daddy's question, "Why is it so damn hard for people to talk?"

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, characters have difficulty talking to each other mainly because they fear being vulnerable. Vulnerability could lead to pain that would be difficult to cope with. For example, Brick drinks heavily to prevent himself from being vulnerable by thinking about his relationship with Skipper. By blocking this vulnerability, Brick does not have to deal with the pain of possibly being gay and his role in causing Skipper's death. By doing this, Brick has difficulty communicating openly with others. Gooper and Mae guard themselves from vulnerability by putting on an elaborate act for Big Daddy. If Gooper and Mae were honest, they would admit their resentment of Big Daddy and their desire to get the estate. However, such vulnerability could lead to the pain of rejection. Gooper and Mae decide not to talk honestly but instead to put on a performance. In contrast, Maggie is willing to endure the pain of honesty and vulnerability to get what she wants. In Act 1, Maggie tells Brick, "I'm honest! Give me credit for just that."

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Act 2, how does Tennessee Williams convey the limitations of wealth?

Tennessee Williams conveys the limitations of wealth mainly through Big Daddy's speech about having "the richest land this side of the valley Nile," and following speeches about Big Mama's buying sprees. During the Nile speech, Big Daddy admits that he cannot use his wealth to buy back his life. In other words, a person cannot use wealth to achieve immortality and thereby defeat death. Big Daddy realized this when he thought he had cancer. During this time, he felt a terror about dying that his wealth could not alleviate. Big Daddy goes on to point out that people often try to use wealth to defeat death. For example, Big Mama goes on buying sprees. Big Daddy figures she does this with the hope of buying something that will provide immortality. Any such search for immortality will be futile.

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Act 2, why might Tennessee Williams have included the story about the Arab woman and her child?

Tennessee Williams includes the story about the Arab woman and her child to convey the theme of cruelty. First, Williams emphasizes the cruelty of poverty. For an Arab woman to have a naked child and tell this child to perform a sexual act, the woman and her family must be desperately poor. Because of this, the woman and her child deal with the fear of starving to death. Also, making a child perform such an act is abusive and cruel. Big Daddy knows this, and so is disgusted by the mother and child. However, Big Daddy shows cruelty by abruptly leaving the area. Surrounded by poverty and death, he wants to leave the region as soon as possible. As an alternative, he could have tried to relieve some of the poverty through charitable donations.

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Act 2, what makes Big Daddy realize that Brick is an alcoholic?

Big Daddy realizes Brick is an alcoholic after Brick talks about drinking liquor to get the sensation of a "click." When Brick gets this click, he feels peaceful no matter what is happening around him. This revelation makes Big Daddy understand that Brick drinks to achieve a certain state of mind, which he depends on to cope with life. If Brick didn't have alcohol, he might commit suicide. In fact, at one point Big Daddy asks Brick why he just doesn't kill himself. Brick says he likes to drink. Brick sees drinking liquor as a substitute for suicide. Such a desperate reliance on drinking makes Big Daddy realize that his son is an alcoholic.

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Act 2, how do the ideals of Brick's youth change?

Brick used to believe in certain ideals that society presented as being noble and good. For example, he believed excelling as a football player and living what society views as a good life was an ideal he had achieved. Part of this ideal involved being truthful in one's relationships with other people. Brick saw his friendship with Skipper as being the pinnacle of this ideal. He had a true, noble relationship with Skipper that was rare. Brick tried to keep this ideal alive by continuing to play football with Skipper after college. However, when Skipper admitted to having homosexual feelings for Brick, Brick's ideal collapsed. What was good and decent became dirty and sordid. Brick became disgusted with his own self-deceit and the deceit of others. He no longer believed in ideals, but instead became a cynical person who used alcohol to get through life.

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Act 2, why does Brick think Big Daddy wants Maggie and him to sleep in the bed used by the estate's former owners?

Brick's homophobia causes Brick to suspect that Big Daddy wants him and Maggie to sleep in the bed used by the previous owners of the estate. These owners, Jack Straw and Peter Ochello, were a gay couple. Brick fears that Big Daddy thinks he had a gay relationship with Skipper. So, by having Brick and Maggie sleep in this bed, Brick thinks Big Daddy is mocking him. In reality, Big Daddy is very tolerant of gay relationships, as Brick realizes with shock. Even if Big Daddy did think that Brick was gay, he would not have mocked his son about this. However, Brick's shame about being at all associated with homosexuality makes him suspect a devious motive on Big Daddy's part concerning Brick's and Maggie's sleeping arrangement.

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Act 2, why is Big Daddy more tolerant than Brick?

Big Daddy is more tolerant than Brick because Big Daddy has not tried to live up to a lofty ideal. Big Daddy was a poor person who lived with homeless people and got jobs wherever he could. Eventually, he got a job as a manager on Straw's and Ochello's estate. During this time, Big Daddy saw people behave in many ways and most likely often behaved himself in a manner that was not gentlemanly. Big Daddy did not live by a lofty ideal or standard. Instead, he was a realist who worked hard to build up his plantation. In this way, Big Daddy is similar to Maggie. Both of them are realists who make no pretensions about upholding an ideal. Because Big Daddy accepts his own humanness, he can also accept the humanness of others. On the other hand, Brick was born into privilege. He was groomed as the golden boy who is supposed to uphold the banner of decency and nobility. As a result, Brick is less tolerant of people who do not live by this ideal. When Brick realizes that most people—including himself—cannot live by his ideals, he becomes a cynical, detached alcoholic.

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Act 2, how does Brick's view of his relationship with Skipper as being a "clean, true thing" reveal his honesty and his deception?

By seeing his relationship with Skipper as being a "clean, true thing," Brick is, in a way, being very honest. As the play shows, most people are not truthful with each other but instead often lie to get what they want. However, Brick's friendship with Skipper was different. They were honest with each other to a certain extent. Brick says, "Any true thing between two people is too rare to be normal." In another way, Brick is deceiving himself. Brick elevates his friendship with Skipper to a lofty level to prevent him from coming to terms with his own affection for Skipper. Brick refuses to tarnish the memory of this friendship by even considering that he had homosexual feelings for Skipper. Brick uses his "clean, true" friendship with Skipper as a way to deceive himself.

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Act 2, how does Brick's speech that starts with "Great! The greatest" use the symbol of the cat?

Brick's speech uses the symbol of the cat in two ways. First, this symbol is used for Maggie, as it is in most of the play. Brick calls her "Maggie the Cat." Like a cat on a hot tin roof, Maggie shows determination by traveling with the Dixie Stars and throwing parties for the team. However, Brick also uses the symbol of the cat to show the emotional distance between Maggie and himself. According to Brick, he and Maggie never got closer than "two cats on a—fence humping." So, even though Brick and Maggie had a sexual chemistry, they never bonded emotionally. Because of this, Maggie was jealous of Skipper because he did have this emotional bond with Brick.

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Act 2, how does Tennessee Williams insert doubt about Skipper being homosexual?

Skipper is often viewed by readers and critics as being homosexual. After all, when he was drunk, Skipper called Brick and made a confession, during which Skipper admitted his homosexual feelings for his friend. However, according to Brick, Maggie planted the idea in Skipper's mind that he was homosexual. Apparently, Skipper was not a very intelligent person. Also, he had a close friendship with Brick and did not show any interest in women. Skipper, though, could have been asexual instead of homosexual. Maggie's suggestion could have terrified Skipper because he felt strange about his lack of sexual feelings. He tried to prove his sexuality by trying to have sex with Maggie, but this failed. Afterward, he came to believe he must be homosexual because he felt affection for Brick, and so he made his drunken confession to Brick.

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