Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Intro
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CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF By Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, Tennessee Williams.
“What is the victory of a cat on a hot tin roof?—I wish I knew... Just staying on it, I guess, as long as she can...”
Tennessee Williams • Born March 1911, Mississippi • Died February 1983, New York City, choked to death
on a bottle cap. • Difficult life, family, social relationships • Mental health struggles, depression • Sister’s Mental health • Williams’ sexual identity: Homosexuality during 1900s, partner Frank Merlo past away in 1961 of lung cancer, precipitating William’s decade long depression. • Suffered Addictions - Alcohol & Drug use
“I've got the guts to die. What I want to know is, have you got the guts to live?” ― Tennessee Williams, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Tennessee Williams • Playwright, poet, fiction writer, Tennessee Williams left a • • • •
powerful mark on American theatre. 25 full length plays known for their intensity, haunting loneliness, and hypnotic violence. His father was a shoe salesman & emotionally absent parent His mother was the daughter of a Southern Episcopal minister, a loving yet smothering woman. His sister Rose suffered greatly (severe mental illness) William’s father was an unreliable figure in his family. Extremes of parenting: unreliable, flighty, father, smothering mother.
Successful American Writer • Williams graduated from school and moved to New
Orleans and changed his name to Tennessee. • He struggled with his sexual identity all his life and now entered a full life as openly gay. • The 1940s brought success to Williams as he wrote The Glass Menagerie, and A Streetcar Named Desire. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1947 for this masterpiece. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was written in 1955 and won him his 2nd Pulitzer Prize.
Brick, Maggie, Big Daddy
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof - Introduction • This is the Pulitzer Prize winning drama that tells the tale of the
troubles that beset a wealthy Southern family and how their lives are stripped of pretence in a shattering moment of revelation (cover, Penguin edition). • Summary: When Brick’s best friend Skipper dies, Brick is racked with guilt, a torture that only drinking can numb. Brick’s wife, Maggie (Margaret / ‘Maggie the cat’) craves her husband’s attention as much as she despises his alcoholism. • Brick is disinterested in Maggie and life beyond the bottle (alcoholism and guilt torture him). • Brick’s father, Big Daddy, lives every day as though it were his last – not realizing that his days are truly numbered and his doctors and family have been lying to him.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof • It is only when the family gathers for the celebration of Big
• • • •
Daddy’s 65th Birthday, that the simmering conflicts come to a head in a series of explosive climaxes—each of which force them to face the half lies (mendacity) that until now have shielded them from reality. Praise for the play: “Mr. William’s finest drama. It faces and speaks the truth.” ~The New York Times “Stunning…Williams’ most memorable.” ~Time “As emotionally naked and relentlessly visceral a play as our theater has seen.” ~The Saturday Review
Pre-Reading Questions to Consider… • In small groups, discuss the following questions: • 1. Is telling a lie ever justified? If you answer yes, try to
describe a situation that would illustrate why you feel as you do. If your answer is no, try to explain your reasons. 2. Do you think that there are varying degrees of lies and liars? Explain your answer and give an example if possible. 3. Take it a little further – explain which you would consider a greater insult: to be called a coward, or to be called a liar? Is it more cowardly to lie than face the truth and go on living? Is it better or worse to live a lie and lie to others?
The Pollitt Household Family Tree:
Mae (Sister Woman)
+ Reverend Baugh + Reverend Tooker
Key Act One Notes •
CHARACTER • Brick • Alcoholic, injured (broken ankle) • Indifferent, “zoned out,” distant, even hostile – especially towards Maggie • Stuck in his past – jumping hurdles in the middle of the night to relive his youth. • Tries to escape his past via alcohol; jumps over hurdles but fails.
Maggie • Desperate, nervous, talks and talks and talks . . . • “Catty,” sarcastic, “bitchy” – over all, very feisty • Poor background; money-focused, aware of and sensitive to class • Seems to love Brick; wants to have children, but is childless • Communication is attempted, but not successful • tries to help Brick face the lies he is telling himself about Skipper
Proud of her ability to have children, a “monster of fertility” according to Maggie. Limited ideas of acceptable gender roles
Big Daddy • Dying of cancer; hasn’t made a will (not present, but talked about) • Is not aware of his own illness as the family is lying to him • Death/illness
Big Mamma • Nosy, impatient busybody • Assumes Brick’s drinking problem and Maggie’s childlessness is all Maggie’s fault • Importance of sexuality as root of sexual problem
Skipper (and his relationship with Brick) is shaping/commanding Brick’s actions and reactions.
Key Notes •
IMAGERY • Animal Imagery • Maggie as a cat on a hot tin roof • Big Mamma described as bulldog • Mae and Gooper’s kids given dog names (e.g. Buster, Trixie) • Family relationships • Consider! Cats vs. Dogs and the strained relationship between Maggie and Big Mamma; Maggie and the “no-neck monsters.” • •
Burning Imagery • “Men’s eyes burn holes in my clothes” (Maggie) – describes the way men look at Maggie and the intensity of their desire for her (Is this positive, or negative?) • Silence is like “shutting a door and locking it on a house on fire in hope of forgetting that the house is burning” (32) – keeping secrets consumes you inside and out. • Communication – Skipper and Brick • Consider! With what else is burning, fire, flames, etc. often associated with? • •
Hunting Imagery • Developed through Maggie’s bow – her “Diana Trophy” (36) and her references to hunting on (37). Consider! What does this suggest to us about her character?
Imagery of Imprisonment • When Brick loses his composure (32), Maggie asks, “A crack in the wall?” – suggests Brick has walled himself in, locked himself up within himself. • Maggie says to Brick: “I’m not living with you. We occupy the same cage” (35). • Family relationships • Desire for escape (from?)
Key Notes •
Dirty/Clean Imagery • Skipper and Brick’s relationship as dirty vs. clean
Light/Dark Imagery • Keep your eyes peeled for this; it often relates to the theme of truth (light) vs. lying (dark) • E.g. when Brick smashed the “gemlike lamp” (60) on the table, he is trying to shatter/hide the truth Maggie is telling him about Skipper – he would rather “stay in the dark” than confront the truth • Mendacity (honesty vs. dishonesty to self, others, etc.) and appearance vs. reality
SYMBOLISM • Diana Trophy • Diana, a.k.a. Artemis, was the goddess of hunting and unmarried (virginal) women • Symbolizes Maggie’s love of hunting – her relentless pursuit of what she wants – AND her currently nonsexual (virginal) relationship with Brick. • Sexuality • Marital relationships
“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” • Symbolizes Maggie’s precarious position in her marriage to Brick • Reveal’s Maggie’s character/attitude • Survival • Class • Communication/Relationships
Key Notes •
Brick’s Crutch and Cast • Indicates physical and psychological disability? • Crutch: symbolizes his dependence, particularly on alcohol, to get by • Connects to his physical injury and may represent the emotional/psychological injuries he has sustained through life as well • Cast: heavy; symbolizes that Maggie, life, and memories weigh him down? • Communication/Relationships
Brick’s Alcoholism • Symbolizes his desire to escape reality and to, quite literally, drown his sorrows. • Escape • Sexuality • Appearance vs. Reality
Brick’s and Skipper’s Name • Brick: Symbolic of his personality, how he interacts with others – he’s pretty much “immovable” • Symbolic of his gender role – “tough” and “manly,” e.g. “He’s a real brick!” • Skipper: denotation = person in command of a boat;
Dramatic Method • Dramatic Method • Focus on rich narrative elements – conflict, character is primarily
developed through dialogue, and there is little “action” in the traditional sense of the term.
• • Begins in the middle of things (in Medias Res)
• Past revealed in parcels; we get the full history at the end. This helps
create the narrative drive as the audience wants to know what has happened, as well as what will happen. • Climax happens in 2nd act; 3rd act is dénouement. • • Uses stage directions and dialogue to develop theme and character
• Pay close attention to imagery and description provided by Williams in
the introduction and in on-going stage directions. • Many long speeches give insight into relationships •
Themes in the play • Themes
• • • • • • • • • • • • •
Communication (and its failure) Family relationships Mendacity/lying Appearance vs. Reality Truth Power (who has it, who doesn’t, how does one get it?) Dehumanization Hypocrisy Sex / Sexuality / Identity Class Survival/Escape
Imagery & Symbolism in the Play • Imagery – Williams uses a variety of imagery (through description, metaphors, similes,
etc.) to help develop theme and character. •
animal • burning • hunting • imprisonment • dirty vs. clean • light vs. dark • disease • Symbolism
• • • • • •
Found in names Title of book Objects associated with character Keep your eyes peeled!