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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof | Study Guide

Tennessee Williams

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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof | Quotes


I can't! Can't! Can't!

Maggie, Act 1

Maggie expresses her agony about Brick refusing to have sex with her. Brick refers to this situation as the agreed-upon conditions of their marriage. However, for Maggie these conditions have become a form of cruel, slow torture.


But I could make her hear me just by sayin' each word slowly, distinctly.

Maggie, Act 1

Maggie explains how to talk to old, deaf people when they are acting stubborn, and shows herself to be the one person in the Pollitt household who communicates directly and clearly. Brick often refuses to communicate, and Gooper and Mae often use indirect communication.


Nobody says, "You're dying." You have to fool them. They have to fool themselves.

Maggie, Act 1

Maggie again uses honest communication. She states why people delude themselves; namely, to avoid facing their own deaths. The play proves her statement to be true and shows one possible benefit to artifice. Throughout the play, characters use delusion and artifice to avoid dealing directly with death, such as Big Daddy's illness.


One man has one great good true thing in his life ... you are naming it dirty!

Brick, Act 1

Brick here shows his homophobia. He thinks that homosexuality is dirty or perverse, so he has to block out any element of homosexuality in his relationship with Skipper. Instead, he idealizes his friendship with Skipper as something great, good, and true.


You two had something that had to be kept on ice, yes, incorruptible, yes!

Maggie, Act 1

Maggie shows her understanding about Brick's relationship with Skipper. She knows society would view such a close friendship between two men as being homosexual. She also understands that for Brick, the love he had for his friend was pure, without sexual desire. So, Skipper had to repress his feelings for Brick, which eventually killed Skipper. Brick still denies any possibility of having homosexual feelings for Skipper.


You listen at night like ... peekhole spies ... and give a report on what you hear to Big Mama.

Big Daddy, Act 2

Big Daddy shows his awareness of the indirect, sneaky communication that happens in his household. Gooper and Mae use artifice to convince Big Daddy of their love and devotion to him. At the same time, they try to sabotage Brick and Maggie by eavesdropping on their private conversations and conveying any disparaging information they gather to Big Mama, who then reports it to Big Daddy. Indeed, eavesdropping is rampant throughout the play. Maggie, Brick, and Big Daddy often complain about the walls having ears, and having to speak softly so they are not overheard.


The human animal is a beast that dies but the fact that he's dying don't give him pity for others.

Big Daddy, Act 2

Big Daddy reflects on the cruelty of humans. Even when people know they are dying, they refuse to have pity on other people. Instead, humans try to delude themselves about their deaths. For example, Big Mama goes on buying sprees with the hope of buying something that will give her immortality.


When we talk ... nothing is said. ... Communication is awful hard between people.

Brick, Act 2

Brick expresses his frustration about not being able to communicate honestly with his father. Apparently, Big Daddy has tried to have serious talks with Brick before, but nothing important is said. However, Brick fails to mention his contribution to this lack of communication. When Big Daddy tries to probe into the reasons for Brick's drinking, he tries to avoid the subject as much as possible.


Think of all the lies I got to put up with! ... Ain't that mendacity?

Big Daddy, Act 2

Big Daddy reveals that his life has been immersed in mendacity or lying. He felt he had to lie to live a life that is socially acceptable. Big Daddy has lied about his feelings for Big Mama, and for Gooper and Mae. However, he has not lied about his feelings for Brick. Big Daddy truly loves Brick, but Brick refuses to return any affection for his father. For example, Brick refuses to sign his father's birthday card.


At Ole Miss when ... a pledge ... attempted to do a, unnatural thing ... we told him to git.

Brick, Act 2

Brick reveals the pressure he felt to avoid being labeled as homosexual. At college, Brick was a football hero, admired by other students. Because of this, the pressure he felt to be masculine in a socially acceptable manner must have been intense. Therefore, he looked with horror at what students did to other gay students. He knew that if he was at all suspected of being gay, the same or worse would happen to him. However, Brick is also being selective in his memory, refusing to acknowledge the openly gay relationship that existed in the very bedroom where the play is set.


Why can't exceptional friendship ... between two men be respected as ... clean and decent.

Brick, Act 2

Brick laments that an honest, close friendship between two men is not respected by society. This may have been especially true in the 1950s when the play is set. Close friendship between two men was often looked upon with suspicion. People often inferred that the two men must be gay, even if they weren't. However, Brick uses this truth as a way to deceive himself. By idealizing his relationship with Skipper, Brick refuses to look honestly at this friendship. And again, he refuses to acknowledge the social precedent that was set in his very bedroom.


It was too rare to be normal, any true thing between two people is too rare.

Brick, Act 2

Brick again makes an accurate statement. As the Pollitt family shows, people rarely act in a truthful manner with each other. Therefore, any honest relationship between two people is abnormal and deviant. To be honest, a person must be willing to break society's mores, which might threaten others. Instead, many people, such as Gooper and Mae, would prefer to act in a socially acceptable manner and get what they really what through underhanded means. The quote is dramatically ironic because Brick's wife, Maggie, has struggled to be painfully honest with him from the play's start, and he has refused to show her the same courtesy.


Aw, Brick, you—BREAK MY HEART!

Big Mama, Act 3

Big Mama expresses the hurt she feels from Brick's indifference to her. Brick fully realizes that Big Mama wants and needs his support during her talk about Big Daddy's illness. However, Brick prefers to be detached, which protects himself but also harms his mother. The author, therefore, shows that detachment can be a form of cruelty.


I—want to—knowwwww! ... Somebody must be lyin'! I want to know!

Big Mama, Act 3

Big Mama reveals how she is being tortured by Gooper, Mae, and the timid doctor. By prolonging the news about Big Daddy's cancer, the three of them are submitting Big Mama to a form of emotional torture. Under the guise of being considerate toward Big Mama, they are really being cruel to her.


And so tonight we're going to make the lie true.

Maggie, Act 3

Maggie has told a lie about being pregnant with the hope that telling the lie will help her to get pregnant. If she succeeds in doing this, she will be the only character that transforms lying into truth. For others, their lying keeps them deluded or deceived. For example, Brick's self-deception about his relationship with Skipper prevents him from being honest with himself and others. Big Daddy's lying about his feelings for Big Mama has kept him trapped in a loveless marriage.

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