Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams

April 15, 2009
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From the moment I started reading, I knew there were differences between the books I was reading and the books my mom read. If someone was to ask me what a classic was when I was in elementary school, I would say a classic is a book with lots of words and very few pictures. Now I understand the difference. Charles Dickson's Great Expectation is in a league above the mass produced romance novels and murder mysteries. A classic piece of literature is not simply an entertaining story; a classic is a story that is timeless. Just like a button-down white shirt will never go out of style, a classic novel can last through time and connect with each generation. As long as the story continues to be read, a classic will never go out of style.

There are authors who have become famous by producing classic works of literature. With iconic pieces like A Streetcar Names Desire and The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams has become famous for his plays. Created in 1955, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof probably did not need much publicity. Ads could simply say “play written by Tennessee Williams” and crowds would show up with high expectations. The plot of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof may not relate to everyone who has seen it or read it, but themes scattered throughout the play can speak volumes in the hearts and minds of every audience member and reader. Tennessee Williams creates characters that deal with rejection, loss, and power struggle. The play delves into controversial topics like homosexuality, and it deals with a topic every human faces: the fear of death.

When the play begins, the audience is introduced to a married couple, Brick and Margaret. For the most part, the two of them dominate the opening act, explaining the situation and setting up the rising action. Brick is drunk and will continue to drink through the final scene. Margaret, fed up with the whole situation, desperately tries to connect with Brick, but Brick shows zero interest. They live in Brick's parents' house. His parents have been named Big Mama and Big Papa, and Brick's brother, wife, and children all live in the house too. Everyone is gathered and the conflict is brewing.
Everyone in the house understands that Big Papa has terminal cancer except Big Papa and Big Mama. The doctors lie and tell Big Papa and Big Mama that he is cancer-free; the only thing wrong is a spastic colon. His children know the truth. Though they plan to tell Big Mama, everyone hopes to keep the secret from Big Papa so he will never know how bad it will be. Everyone in the audience can relate the sadness of death. Big Papa shares a scene with Brick telling him how happy he is that he is cancer-free, and the dialogue between the two provides deep insight into the idea of death. “ – the human animal is a beast that dies and if he's got money he buys and buys and buys and I think the reason he buys everything he can buy is that in the back of his mind he has the crazy hope that one of his purchases will be life everlasting.” Big Papa tells Brick. Though Big Papa is over the moon that cancer will not bring an early death, Brick and the audience knows it will. The audience gets to decide for themselves if keeping his cancer a secret is a good idea or not, and they see the results of the decision made by Big Papa's children.
The title Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is used throughout the story, mainly with the character of Margaret. Brick does not love her, but Margaret refuses to leave him. She desperately wants to have kids, but Brick refuses to sleep with her. There relationship is hot like a tin roof on a summer day, and Margaret is the cat burning her paws but refusing to jump off. “Maggie, I wouldn't divorce you for being unfaithful or anything else. Don't you know that? Hell, I'd be relieved to know that you've found yourself a lover.” Brick tells Margaret. “Well, I'm taking no chances. No, I'd rather stay on this hot tin roof.” Margaret replies. “A hot tin roof's ‘n uncomfo'table place t' stay on…” he tells her. “Yeah, but I can stay on it just as long as I have to.” Everyone relates to Margaret in her desperate plea to be loved. Though she can play a tricky game, Margaret has married Brick and plans to stand by him even if he is an alcoholic. I think Margaret wants Brick to stand up and be the leader of their marriage and perhaps their future family. When Brick begins to attack her in an alcoholic rage, Margaret encourages him to fight harder, but I think she simply wants Brick to put effort into something he cares about. Though his actions are violent, at least he is showing interest. Finally, after three acts, Margaret gives up on Brick. She figures if he is not going to take the power role in the relationship, she will. By taking away his alcohol, Margaret forces Brick to do things her way. Society during that time did not give much power to woman, but here Margaret takes it.
Along with being a timeless play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof also challenges the audience to think about issues. Some of the topics are more mature, but they force the reader to make up their own mind. Do they agree with keeping Big Papa's cancer a secret? What do they think about Brick's alcoholism? Do they pity Margaret's relationship with Brick? The play forces all these questions and more. Some classics are political satires that mock society, novels that recall related memories, and others are stories like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Stories that challenge the ideals of the reader and make them think differently about life.

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