Cat on a Hot Tin Roof | Study Guide

Tennessee Williams

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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Act 2, how could "being almost not alive" make Brick more truthful?

Throughout the play, Tennessee Williams shows that people try to cling to life by lying to themselves about their mortality. For example, Big Mama deceives herself with the feeling that buying things will hopefully defeat death. Also, Big Daddy eagerly accepts the doctor's prognosis that he doesn't have cancer, even though he has severe doubts. However, because he doesn't really care if he lives, Brick can let go of his self-deception about death. He can accept that he will die without fear because he is almost dead anyway. Also, Brick can clearly see how other people are deceiving themselves about dying. Brick says, "Maybe it's being alive that makes them lie."

At the end of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Act 2, how does Tennessee Williams use the fireworks in relation to Brick and Big Daddy's dialogue?

Tennessee Williams uses the fireworks as a contrast to Brick and Big Daddy's dialogue. Brick has inadvertently told Big Daddy that he is dying of cancer. This news stuns Big Daddy. However, this dialogue takes place when the Pollitt family is about to have a fireworks display to celebrate Big Daddy's birthday. So, the family is having a cheerful celebration of Big Daddy's life when the man himself is facing his own death. Brick keeps referring to the fireworks in an effort to distract Big Daddy from the shocking news he let slip. However, Big Daddy refuses to be distracted any more by superficial gaiety, which the Pollitt family often uses to deny death. The fireworks could be seen as a symbol of all the lying people do to avoid facing death. In fact, when the fireworks go off, Big Daddy says, "ALL—LYING SONS OF—LYING BITCHES!"

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Act 2, how does Tennessee Williams use Reverend Tooker to convey the themes of the play?

Tennessee Williams uses Reverend Tooker mostly to convey the themes of delusion and artifice and lack of communication. At the beginning of Act 2, Reverend Tooker talks about lavish memorial donations other churches have received, with the obvious hope of getting such a generous donation when Big Daddy dies. However, when Big Daddy asks why Tooker is talking so much about memorials, the reverend laughs nervously and doesn't answer. The reverend tries to go along with the artifice of being cheerful about Big Daddy not having cancer. In reality, though, Tooker is looking forward to the patriarch's death. This scene also shows Tooker's refusal to communicate honestly. He hides behind false cheerfulness instead of admitting that he was talking about memorials. Later in Act 2, Tooker interrupts the serious talk between Brick and Big Daddy by asking where the men's room is, thereby disrupting communication.

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, how does Tennessee Williams use Doctor Baugh to convey the themes of the play?

Tennessee Williams uses Doctor Baugh to convey the theme of delusion and artifice, primarily through the lie Baugh tells to Big Daddy and Big Mama about Big Daddy not having cancer. Baugh is not shown on stage telling this lie. However, the repercussions of this lie are felt throughout the play. Big Daddy feels he has a new lease on life and plans to live it up. When he finds out he really does have cancer, Big Daddy is devastated. Big Mama also goes through an emotional roller coaster because of Baugh's lie. At first, she is ecstatic to learn that her husband is cancer-free. In Act 3, though, Big Mama becomes suspicious and then is so shocked to learn Big Daddy has cancer that she has difficulty accepting the news. Also in Act 3, Williams uses Baugh to show the themes of lack of communication and cruelty. Baugh is very hesitant to tell Big Mama about her husband's illness, but Gooper and Mae coax him into breaking the bad news. However, the doctor prolongs telling this news, which proves to be torturous for Big Mama. Finally, Baugh leaves some morphine for Big Daddy to deaden his pain—though it will only help his physical symptoms. Although Baugh shows concern about deadening his own pain or discomfort, his poor communication has increased the emotional pain of Big Daddy and Big Mama.

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, how are Brick and Big Daddy similar and different?

Brick and Big Daddy have several similarities. First, Brick and Big Daddy love each other. Big Daddy expresses this love when he wonders if he should leave the estate to Brick, a son who he "maybe even—loved!" Also, Big Daddy says he has a strong affection for Brick. For his part, Brick expresses his love indirectly. He seems stunned when he learns that the doctor lied about Big Daddy not having cancer. Also, Brick says he never lied to his father. Later, Brick seems regretful about telling Big Daddy he does have cancer. Brick tries to distract Big Daddy to avoid giving his father pain. In addition, Big Daddy and Brick are both immersed in mendacity—a condition that they have caused. Big Daddy agreed to marry Big Mama even though he never seemed to like her. He goes along with many of the trappings of being a respectable plantation owner, such as going to church and clubs, even though he despises doing these things. Also, Big Daddy pretends to care for Gooper and Mae when he can't stand them. Similarly, Brick is responsible for the mendacity in his own life. He deceives himself about his relationship with Skipper and goes along with the pretense of having a sexually active marriage with Maggie. In addition, like Big Daddy, Brick dislikes Gooper and Mae. Both Big Daddy and Brick are honest enough to admit that their lives are filled with lying. However, a key difference between Big Daddy and Brick is that the former wants to be truthful. In contrast, Brick seems to care less about being truthful. Instead, he tries to escape or dodge the truth by drinking heavily. Big Daddy, though, attempts to confront the truth head on. Because of this, he grills Brick about why he drinks. Although devastated, Big Daddy accepts his own death when he learns about having cancer.

How is Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, similar to and different from King Lear?

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and King Lear each deal with an elderly patriarch who has a vast amount of land. Both of these patriarchs (Big Daddy and King Lear) face a dilemma; namely, how to leave their estates to their children. Big Daddy and King Lear each have a child or children who hate their father. The patriarchs also each have a child that they love. For various reasons, Big Daddy and King Lear have difficulty leaving their estates to the child they love. Furthermore, in both plays the child that loves his father refuses to lie to him, while the other children pretend to love their fathers to get the estates. Also, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and King Lear have thematic similarities. Both works explore the theme of delusion and artifice, and how communication can be used to deceive. In addition, both plays portray cruelty. However, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and King Lear also have many differences. Although wealthy, Big Daddy is not royalty, like King Lear. Big Daddy has two sons; King Lear has three daughters. King Lear loses his estate to the two daughters who hate him. Big Daddy might be able to leave his estate to the child he loves. In addition, King Lear goes insane; Big Daddy is devastated when he learns how people have lied to him, but is able to keep his sanity.

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, why might Tennessee Williams have avoided using the word homosexual?

Tennessee Williams might avoid using the word homosexual to emphasize how characters avoid talking about difficult and sensitive issues. In the play, the subject of homosexuality is such a taboo topic that people have difficulty saying the word. Instead, Brick uses derogatory words for a gay person, such as sissy, queer, and fairy. By doing this, the author points out Brick's homophobia. Brick sees homosexuals as degenerate people and so can only refer to them with insulting words. Even Big Daddy, a person who has tolerance concerning homosexuality, cannot directly talk about the subject. Instead, he makes implications, such as referring to Brick's relationship with Skipper as "not, well, exactly normal." Williams wrote Cat on a Hot Tin Roof during the 1950s when homophobia was common in society. By not stating the word homosexual, Williams might have been trying to introduce the subject indirectly to make it more acceptable for the 1950s' audience. Doing this allowed the audience to be drawn into the story line. Because the audience wanted to find out what happens in the story, they were willing to listen to characters talk indirectly about homosexuality without blocking them out.

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, how do Maggie and Brick use truth as a weapon differently?

Maggie used truth as a weapon when she confronted Skipper about having homosexual feelings for Brick. Maggie wanted to break up the friendship between Skipper and Brick so that Brick would pay more attention to her. Also, Maggie uses truth as a weapon to shake Brick out of his detachment and get back his love. Maggie uses truth in an attempt to strengthen her marriage because she loves Brick, but Brick uses truth as a weapon to get revenge on Big Daddy. Because Big Daddy has suggested that Brick might be gay, Brick decides to get back at his father by telling the truth about his cancer.

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Act 3, why might Mae be afraid that Brick already told Big Daddy that he has cancer?

Mae and Gooper have devised a grand plan to get control of the estate. Part of this plan involves taking advantage of the lie the doctor told Big Daddy and Big Mama about Big Daddy being cancer-free. Mae and Gooper want Doctor Baugh to break the bad news to Big Mama about her husband having cancer when they are present. When Big Mama is devastated about this news, then Mae and Gooper will hit her with their plan to get control of the estate. They are hoping that Big Mama will be so shocked about Big Daddy having cancer that she will go along with their plan and they will get control of the estate behind Big Daddy's back. When Big Daddy finds out he has cancer, he will also be shocked and devastated, adding to the possibility that he will overlook any plans made by Gooper and Mae. However, if Brick already told Big Daddy that he has cancer, then Big Daddy has time to accept this news and get his bearings. As a result, he might get suspicious about Gooper and Mae's talk with Big Mama, which, as it turn out, happens.

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Act 3, why might Big Mama not want to give morphine to Big Daddy?

Big Mama probably does not want to give morphine to Big Daddy because she is still in denial about her husband having cancer. Morphine is a drug often used to numb the pain of patients who are terminally ill, such as people who have an advanced stage of cancer. Big Mama does not want to admit that Big Daddy will die soon. As a result, she rejects anything associated with terminally ill patients. After Big Mama refuses to give morphine to Big Daddy, she says, "It's not true, I know that it's just not true!" referring to Big Daddy dying soon.

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