Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams

November 30, 2012
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“ALL—LYIN’—DYIN’—LIARS! LIARS! LIARS!” yells Big Daddy (61). In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, playwright Tennessee Williams portrays a southern family whose life choices and individual personalities are built upon lies and avarice. Throughout the play, the lies gradually build until Brick and his father, Big Daddy, finally face them and seek the truth. In the above quote, Big Daddy expresses his disgust of his family’s lies. Only Brick’s wife, Maggie, has longed for honesty in her relationship with Brick and his family. But, in one night at Big Daddy’s mansion, through many conversations, arguments, tears, and the rediscovery of love, Big Daddy’s entire family changes. The reality of Big Daddy’s cancer diagnosis initiates and proves the value of honesty. The play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, reveals the destructive nature of mendacity and, more importantly, the rewarding nature of truth.

Throughout Act One, it becomes apparent that Brick is the cause of his broken relationship with Maggie. Brick has fallen out of love because his dead best friend, Skipper, told a lie that he and Maggie had a secret relationship. Brick believes Skipper’s lie over Maggie’s story. He chooses to believe Skipper, his homosexual friend, rather than the honesty of his wife. The deception of Skipper’s lie causes Brick to withdraw from Maggie. He says to her, “One man has one great good true thing in his life. One great good thing which is true! I had a friendship with Skipper. You are namin’ it dirty!” (27). As Brick succumbs to Skipper’s lie and stops loving Maggie, he prevents Maggie from ever telling him the truth about her night with Skipper.

Pleading to Brick that she did not sleep with Skipper, Maggie begs, “Truth, truth! What’s so awful about it? I like it,” when Brick does not believe her truth (26). Maggie accepts and strives for honesty in her relationship with Brick. She constantly attempts to break through Brick’s indifference and drunken behavior to save their marriage. Trying to find a way for Brick to love her again, she explains to Brick that Skipper is the past. He is dead. Skipper is the person who decided to commit suicide, because of the guilt of his lies, and leave Brick in the living world. But, Maggie has stayed with him, even through their broken relationship. She loves him, and has remained faithful to him. She demands to be his future, “Skipper is dead! I’m alive! Maggie the Cat is alive! I’m alive, alive!” (28).

Brick destroys his own life by becoming a drunk after he believes Skipper’s lie. The pain of what he believes to be true is too much for him to handle. His friendship with Skipper is scarred because of Skipper’s night with Maggie. But, Brick ignores Maggie and prevents himself from loving her. He constantly lies to himself that the only way to find pleasure in his life is to drink until he hears a “click.” Drunk, Brick describes that the click is “like a switch clicking off in my head, turnin’ the hot light off an’ the cool light on, an’ all of a sudden there’s peace!” (47). Brick looses his opportunity to be a sports announcer because of his constant need to receive his “click.” This click represents his lies. He does not “need” it, he is lying, and convincing himself that it will heal his sorrow.

When Big Daddy realizes the severity of Brick’s alcholism, he forces Brick to state the reason for his excessive drinking before allowing Brick to have another drink . Big Daddy tells Brick that his habits are “not livin,’” they are “dodgin’ away from life” (52). Big Daddy is right because Brick lost his job as a sports announcer due to his drunken behavior. When Brick finally gives in and tells Big Daddy his reason for drinking, he states that he drinks to kill his disgust of mendacity, or “lyin’ an’ liars” (51). This is the turning point in the novel. It begins the first actual conversation between Big Daddy and Brick. As Brick reveals his pains and hatred of liars, Big Daddy sees the truth in his son’s words, and a loving relationship forms between them. Big Daddy realizes the dishonesty in Gooper, Sister Woman, his own wife, and even Maggie. They all fake their love for him in order win him over and be placed in his will. Brick is the one person in the family who has not lied to Big Daddy. Proving the power of truth, Big Daddy decides to reward Brick with the inheritance of his mansion when he dies.

Big Daddy and Brick initiate the change in honesty within their family. They uncover their family’s dishonesty and reveal many truths. Big Daddy’s illness is terminal, and he is going to die. In Act Three, when Big Daddy and Brick walk into the room with Gooper and Sister Woman who are discussing Big Daddy’s will, Big Daddy says, “ The odor of mendacity is a powerful and obnoxious odor an’ the stawn hasn’t blown it away from this room yet” (77). But, because Big Daddy chooses to reward honesty over mendacity, he is not going to give his estate to the Gooper and Sister Woman. Truth ultimately wins over mendacity when Big Daddy gives Brick and Maggie his estate.

Maggie tells her first and the final lie at the end of Act Three. She uses it to fully heal her relationship with Brick and to provide a final gift for dying Big Daddy. She says to Big Daddy, “A child is coming, sired by Brick, and out of Maggie the Cat! I have Brick’s child in my body, an’ that’s my birthday present to Big Daddy on this birthday!” (78). Maggie does this with the hope that Brick will sleep with her and love her again. More importantly, she does this to rebuild and establish her and Brick’s family. She forces Brick to change and become a better man—to stop drinking and become a father. Maggie rewards Big Daddy with the knowledge that Brick’s legacy will carry on. They will not waste his estate. Instead, they intend to fill it with life. When Maggie lies at the end of the play, she and Brick are determined to make her lie the truth. She and Brick, like the other members of Big Daddy’s family, now understand the powerful and crucial value of truth.

Williams, Tennessee. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof : A Play in Three Acts. New York, N.Y: Dramatists Play Service, 1986.

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