Cat on a Hot Tin Roof | Study Guide

Tennessee Williams

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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Act 3, in what ways does Tennessee Williams use sound effects?

In Act 3 of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Tennessee Williams uses several sounds effects, including the thunderstorm, a dog howling, scat music, and Big Daddy screaming. Williams uses the thunderstorm to intensify the climax of the scene where Gooper and Mae describe their plan to get control of the estate. As Gooper explains his plan to Big Mama, his speech is punctuated by a thunder clap, adding to the tension and giving an ominous quality to the plan. Thunder is heard again when Big Mama rejects the plan, adding to the force of her rejection. When she reaffirms her rejection, thunder is heard a third time. After the plan is dismissed, thunder is heard more faintly, emphasizing that this scene is winding down. Williams uses the sound effect of a dog howling when Big Mama embraces Brick and asks him to give Big Daddy a grandson. This sound intensifies the pain of the relationship between Brick and Big Mama. Even though Big Mama affectionately embraces Brick, he can't stand having her arms around him. Also, he has no intention of providing a grandson for Big Daddy. Brick turns on a phonograph that plays a scat song during Mae's speech about Maggie lying. This type of song with its rapid lyrics serves as a mocking commentary on Mae and her shrewish behavior. Gooper might sense this mockery because he tells Brick to turn off the phonograph. Also, the song covers up what Mae is saying, which is true. The song supports the theme of lack of communication. Big Daddy's off-stage scream acts as a commentary for what has been happening during the play. The effects of all of the delusion, artifice, lying, and manipulation can be summed up by this agonizing cry. This scream seems to be saying that despite all the attempts to avoid it, death is inevitable.

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Act 3, for what purpose does Tennessee Williams have Big Daddy tell a joke?

By having Big Daddy tell a joke, Tennessee Williams is emphasizing the character's working-class roots. The joke is a crude tale that two workers might tell each other in a bar. Also, the joke serves to cut through all the artifice that has been happening in the play. By telling this joke, Big Daddy is saying he knows Gooper and Mae have been plotting against him under the guise of loving him. However, instead of going along with this refined pretense, Big Daddy acts without any pretense. He tells a joke that honestly reflects who he is as a person. Finally, the joke makes a comment on all the mendacity in the room. For Big Daddy, the foul order of this mendacity is as potent as the odor of fertility given off by a female elephant.

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Act 3, how does Tennessee Williams show a bond between Brick and Big Daddy?

As Big Daddy tells the joke, he makes side comments to Brick, who responds in agreement. For example, Big Daddy asks Brick if he's using decent language while telling the joke. Brick responds, "Yes, sir, too ruttin' decent." Also, the joke could be seen as an inside joke between Big Daddy and Brick about all the mendacity that they deal with. Big Daddy and Brick share an awareness of the mendacity in their lives and a realization of the damage caused by it. Big Daddy is also wearing Brick's present, a cashmere robe, and Maggie's present, Chinese slippers. By doing this, Big Daddy suggests a bond with Brick and his wife.

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, how does Maggie show that she is stronger than Brick?

Maggie shows she is stronger than Brick through her willingness to talk about the truth, no matter difficult or sensitive the subject. For example, Maggie brings up the topic of Skipper and his relationship with Brick. In contrast, Brick tries to avoid this topic as much as possible and drinks heavily to dull any sensitivity to it. Also, Maggie shows a willingness to be vulnerable and take risks. For instance, she boldly states the lie that she is pregnant. Brick could easily refute her claim that she is carrying their child. If he did this, Maggie would seem like a fool. On the other hand, Brick refuses to be vulnerable and take risks. Because of this, Brick cannot break out of his alcoholic detachment. If he was willing to explore the possibility of being homosexual, he could develop as a person. In addition, Maggie takes assertive action. For example, she locks up Brick's liquor and throws away his crutch in an attempt to make Brick have sex with her. Brick, though, refuses to take action except drinking liquor. The play could be seen as an attempt by Maggie and Big Daddy to make Brick take action and his resistance to doing so. At the end of the play, Maggie might have coerced Brick to take some action.

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Brick and Big Daddy each ask, "Wouldn't if be funny if that was true?" How are their questions similar and different?

For both Big Daddy and Brick, the question is said to a person who desperately loves them. However, Big Daddy and Brick do not return this love. Big Mama is strongly attached to Big Daddy, but he despises her. Maggie yearns for Brick's love, but he has no desire to be with her. Also, the question shows the cruel detachment of Big Daddy and Brick. Even though Big Mama strongly expresses her love for Big Daddy, he is so detached from her that he can see a cruel humor in the situation, and says so in front of her. The same is true of Brick. Despite Maggie's love, Brick remains so detached from her that he sees a grim humor in a person loving someone who stays unmoved. Brick and Big Daddy are so immersed in artifice and mendacity that they might doubt the love of anyone. So, if their wives do love them, they would find the situation odd or funny. However, the question takes on a different meaning for Brick and Big Daddy because each character is in a different stage of life. Big Daddy is near the end of his life. The question can be seen as a reflection back on his long life with his wife. Brick, though, is a young man. Maggie plans to stay married to him despite his detachment. Also, Maggie might conceive. The detachment shown through the question probably will have a continuing influence on their relationship and on their child.

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Act 3, what is the importance of the main plot twist?

The main plot twist of Act 3 is Maggie telling the lie about being pregnant. This event is an important twist because it completely changes the direction of the play. Before the lie, Big Daddy did not know who to leave his estate to. However, after the lie, Big Daddy knows he will leave his estate to Brick. The lie at least temporarily defeats any plans by Gooper and Mae to take control of the estate. Finally, because of the lie, Maggie feels the need to make the lie true. She locks up Brick's liquor, throws away his crutch, and tries to make Brick have sex with her. If she succeeds in getting pregnant, Maggie will alter her and her husband's lives. They will become owners of an estate and will have at least one child to raise.

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

Maggie and Big Daddy both love Brick. Also, Maggie and Big Daddy each try to use the truth to make Brick do what they want. Maggie tries to make Brick return her love. Big Daddy tries to make Brick either have sex with Maggie or divorce her and marry someone who he will have sex with. Maggie wants to conceive a child by Brick, and Big Daddy also wants her to do this. Maggie and Big Daddy are both tough people from poor backgrounds who have a desire for wealth. In addition, they each hate lying. However, Big Daddy has lived with lying his entire life and has gone along with this lying. In contrast, Maggie probably has not been immersed in mendacity until her marriage to Brick. She seems like a person who tries to be honest and, at times, can be blunt. She shows this when she confronted Skipper about being gay. She likes to bring issues out in the open instead of keeping them bottled up inside. Maggie says, "When something is festering in your memory ... laws of silence don't work." Although Big Daddy tries to bring issues to light, he does so as an act of desperation after years of lying.

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

Brick and Gooper are each sons of Big Daddy. Also, Brick and Gooper constantly lie. However, Brick mostly deceives himself, especially concerning his relationship with Skipper. Gooper, though, lies to Big Daddy by pretending to love him. Even so, Gooper does not deceive himself. Eventually, he admits he resents his father and hates his brother. Gooper desperately wants to control his father's estate. On the other hand, Brick has no desire for the estate. Gooper leads a responsible life as a family man and a lawyer. Brick lives a useless life, which involves getting drunk. Gooper has a sexual relationship with his wife and seems to have the same goals as her. Brick, though, does not have sex with Maggie and does not share her goals in life.

How are Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire similar and different?

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire both deal with the theme of delusion and artifice. For example, in Cat, Brick deludes himself about his relationship with Skipper, and Gooper and Mae present the artifice of loving Big Daddy. In Streetcar, Blanche du Bois creates the illusion of being a refined, pure, southern lady. In reality, she has a sordid past. However, to maintain this illusion, Blanche constantly lies about herself and her past life. In Cat, characters often lie to each other. For instance, Big Daddy pretended for years to care for his wife. In Streetcar, desire often leads to death. Blanche's desire to find a man to care for her leads to her mental breakdown. In Cat, characters use artifice to deny death and the desire for wealth to achieve immortality on Earth. However, Cat takes place in one day, focusing intensely on the dynamics of one family. In contrast, Streetcar takes place over several months and deals with how Blanche disrupts the dynamics of the Kowalski family, and it's mostly through backstory that Tennessee Williams explores the dynamics of Blanche's and Stella's family. In addition, Cat focuses on a wealthy family, while Streetcar deals with the poor Kowalski family and the Du Bois family, who lost their wealth.

How is homophobia, or fear of homosexuality, portrayed in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof?

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Tennessee Williams depicts homosexuality as a subject that is mostly hidden from society. It seems to be viewed by most people, including the sexually ambivalent Brick, as something that is deviant. As a result, many gay people (like Skipper) deny their sexuality or keep it in the closet. Brick mentions how his classmates ostracized a gay student. His perception of homophobia is so intense that he refuses to explore even the possibility of being gay. This attitude was common in the 1950s when Williams wrote Cat, inflamed in part by antihomosexual purges conducted by the U.S. government.

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