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Literature Study GuidesCat On A Hot Tin RoofNotes For The Designer Summary

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof | Study Guide

Tennessee Williams

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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof | Notes for the Designer | Summary



Before Act 1 of the script, the playwright provides a detailed description of the setting: the "bed-sitting-room of a plantation home in the Mississippi Delta." Tennessee Williams describes the room's furniture, which includes a big double bed, a huge radio-phonograph-television, and a liquor cabinet. He also describes the layout of the house and the lighting, a "fair summer sky" that fades to dusk and night as the play progresses. The notes point out that the play unfolds in real time: it "occupies precisely the time of its performance" with the exception of the intermission.

Williams notes that the room must "evoke some ghosts." It is haunted by the original owners of the house, Jack Straw and Peter Ochello, a "pair of old bachelors who shared this room all their lives together." The playwright mentions a faded photograph of the veranda of 19th-century author Robert Louis Stevenson's home on a Samoan island that showed a "quality of tender light on weathered wood," which reminds him that the lighting for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof should suggest the "grace and comfort" of light on a late, fair summer afternoon. He tells the designer that the set must fit a play that "deals with human extremities of emotion." Finally, he points out that the actors need room to move about freely so they can express their "passion for breaking out."


The details regarding the play's setting suggest an adherence to the Aristotelian concepts of dramatic unity: plays should have unity of time (occur over the course of a single day), unity of place (occur entirely in the same setting), and unity of action (be concerned with the same central event). Although written in the 20th century and set in the American South, Tennessee Williams clearly intends for the play to evoke classical themes such as fate, mortality, and family duty.

Critic Claire Nicolay has pointed out that the offstage presence of the two men who lived together in the room now occupied by Brick and Maggie helps to broaden the question of Brick's sexuality. By providing a concrete image of homosexual love, it provides a spectrum of types of male love depicted in the play, and suggests that a homosexual relationship was once able to flourish in this place of refuge. It also implies that a purist attitude toward homosexuality is not historically embedded in the region, removing one possible excuse for Brick's attitude toward his relationship with Skip.

The mention of the photograph of Stevenson's home also evokes the image of a place that is a refuge. In Nicolay's analysis, the world of both Stevenson and the homosexual couple of Straw and Ochello predated the "Cold War trauma" in which the play takes place, when homosexuals were arrested and harassed. The plantation setting, similarly, carries a strong sense of a history that is fruitful, bountiful, and peaceful.

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