Cat on a hot tin roof final

January 6, 2018 | Author: Anonymous | Category: Arts & Humanities, Performing Arts, Drama
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American Literature: Drama Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Tennessee Williams (1911 – 1983)



 Watch Tennessee Williams: Wounded Genius on (5 parts)

 Play written 1955; Broadway debut 1956

i. Plot  Centres around Big Daddy’s birthday party

 Big Daddy dying  Pollitt family vying to inherit large estate


What the play is about


Homosexual relationship

Troubled marriage

Communication difficulties

Family squabbles over inheritance

iii. Relevance for today?

iv. Context of the South Mississippi Delta

Noble past? Conservative values

v. Patriarchal family  Family hierarchy  Father = head of family

 Mother subordinate to father  Child-rearing conforms to gender roles

vi.Microcosm vs. macrocosm Microcosm = family Macrocosm = society Family reflects US society

Time of big social change

2. Dramatic Form i. Realistic dramatic form  Stage – proscenium arch  Set  Time  Furniture  Lighting

ii. Non-realist dimension iii. Patterns of movement on the stage Crossing and counter-crossing Facilitates theme of entrapment and imprisonment

3. Writer on Communication Artist’s need to communicate truth “People who are shocked by the truth, aren’t deserving of the truth. And the truth is something one has to deserve.” Tennessee Williams (

Play communicates: -

Human truths and emotions


American society and its values


Personal concerns – Williams’ homosexuality

4. Characters and central concerns of the play


Big Daddy

 Self-made

 Powerful patriarch

 Coarse

 Terminally ill

 Sexual entitlement

 Needs successor

 Tolerant?/ sympathetic

ii. Big Mama (Ida)  Huge and ugly

 Submissive to Big Daddy  Interfering

 No sense of self  Believes marriage based on sex

 Ineffectual?

ii. Big Mama (Ida) (cont) Delusion – family held together by love Reality – family held together by greed

iii. Gooper and Mae  Older brother and wife  Avaricious  Gooper – uses legal knowledge to try steal estate  Mae – ex-Cotton Queen, socially pretentious  Reflect American values

iii. Gooper and Mae (cont)  5 children – ‘no-neck monsters’  Use children as bait for material gain

 Sham show of love for Big Daddy

iv. Brick Ex-football player/ sports commentator

Beautiful on outside/ empty on inside Alcoholic Spiritually and morally paralysed

iv. Brick (cont)  Friendship with Skipper = centre of play  Repressed homosexual?  Homophobic  Disgusted with ‘mendacity’  Disgusted with himself?


Conflict between Brick and Big Daddy

 Breakdown in communication  Brick’s truth cause of his disgust with himself?  Heart of Brick’s spiritual and moral paralysis?  Brick reveals Big Daddy’s truth to him  Truth intolerable to both

vi. Ambiguous treatment of homosexuality Patriarchal society – need for successor  Original owners of plantation homosexual  No biological heirs so who succeeds?

vi. Ambiguous treatment of homosexuality (cont)  Brick denies his homosexuality

 But BIG QUESTION: Is he or isn’t he?  Brick expresses homophobia  Brick’s sexuality remains unresolved  Has treatment of theme dated badly?

vii. Maggie (Margaret)  The cat on the hot tin roof  Feline characteristics  Ambitious  Realist/ cynic  Uses sexuality as weapon; sexually aggressive  Determined to win

5. Theme of truth and mendacity  No absolute truth  Truth-telling = communication (artist’s aim)  Characters reflect mendacious society  Brick’s, Maggie’s and Big Daddy’s “truths”

6. Staging Act I:

Brick and Maggie

Act II:

Brick and Big Daddy

Act III:

Alternative resolutions; all characters denied wishes

7. Ending of play i. Original  Dark and negative

 No resolution for Brick  Big Daddy doesn’t reappear

 2 grim reminders of Big Daddy’s death – anguished cry and Big Mama rushing in to fetch morphine


Broadway version

 On advice from director, Elia Kazan

 More positive  Big Daddy returns to stage  Development of Brick’s character  Storm (pathetic fallacy)  Capitulation of Williams’ artistic integrity?

iii. What about film?  Sanitised version

In all versions:  Open-ended  Unanswered questions tease audience

Lecturer: Jill Nudelman Contact: [email protected]

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