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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof | Study Guide

Tennessee Williams

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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof | Symbols



Tennessee Williams uses the symbol of the cat on a hot tin roof to convey Maggie's determination to stay in her marriage with Brick and inherit the estate. The difficulties of Maggie's marriage, such as Brick not having sex with her, have made Maggie hard and catty. She realizes she has taken on these traits in her effort to achieve her ambitions. She doesn't particularly like this change in herself, but she also tries to own it in an attempt to gather all her strength and confront the challenge before her. At one point, Maggie looks at her reflection in a mirror, crouches like a cat, and in a mocking voice says, "I am Maggie the Cat!" So as Maggie stays on the hot tin of roof of her marriage, she actually takes on some of the temperament of a cat, such as howling in heat to get what she wants. Even so, Maggie endures the hot tin roof to achieve her goals. In the end, Maggie uses a stereotypical trait of a cat, namely sneakiness, to obtain what she wants. She lies about being pregnant and then locks up Brick's liquor to make him have sex with her and, hopefully in the process, make the lie true.


Williams uses Brick's crutch as a symbol of how the character uses alcohol to cope with his self-deception and the mendacity of others. By doing this, the author makes Brick's dependency on alcohol a tangible reality in the play. As Brick talks with Maggie and Big Daddy about his drinking and about Skipper, Brick often uses his crutch or has his crutch taken away. In this way, Williams reflects the ideas expressed in the dialogue through the physical symbol of the crutch. For example, when Big Daddy tries to get at the truth about Brick's drinking, he takes the crutch away from his son. Big Daddy is symbolically removing Brick's dependence on alcohol in an effort to get his son to face the truth. Later, Maggie throws the crutch out the window, thereby symbolically denying Brick his alcohol dependence to make him have sex with her.


Williams uses Mae's children as a symbol of how she uses trickery and deviousness in an attempt to manipulate Big Daddy. The author makes use of this symbol forcefully in Act 2, when Mae has her kids sing a cloyingly sweet birthday song to Big Daddy. The lyrics include, "We love you in the morning; we love you in the night." Mae is using her children to unabashedly trick Big Daddy into believing he is deeply loved by Mae and her family and thus should give them the estate. Like tricky pixies, the children often behave meanly or mischievously when they are not trying to manipulate Big Daddy. For example, Dixie yells at Maggie about being "jealous because [she] can't have babies." Later, one of the girls interrupts Big Daddy's serious talk with Brick by entering with a birthday sparkler, hopping around, and shrieking like an insane monkey. Big Mama's children have not brought her happiness or comfort, only scheming and heartbreak. Although children are conceived of theoretically as a social good, children themselves are not portrayed in a positive light, causing the reader to question other widely accepted social goods.

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Oates has specifically mentioned the "Death and the Maiden" folktales as one inspiration for this story (see "Death and the Maiden" under " Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory "). Some literary critics have
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