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In ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ Williams presents the audience with w world of mendacity. Every fibre of the character’s being is based on a spectrum of deceit, from self-deception, to exploitation to social lies. The characters’ names themselves conceal the irony and deceit, for example Brick, the leading man. The name Brick itself suggests a tough, strong man, but Brick’s character suggests a weak, pathetic man who tries hard to forget his past by indulging in a life of alcohol.
Brick is mentally insecure, he lies to himself and those around him, in the first scene he pretends not to hear his wife, ‘did you say something, Maggie? The other members of the household refer to Brick as the brick house that sheltered the ‘three little pigs’, the strong structure that cannot be easily blown down. The ‘no-neck monsters’, Mae and Goopers children are the pigs, sheltered by the security of Brick. In the play lying is used to ‘protect’ other people’s feelings because ‘the truth hurts’.
A web of lies covers the truth about the state of Big Daddy’s health. This is to ‘protect’ Big Daddy and his wife from the painful reality, ‘Nothin’ a-tall’s wrong with him but’ ‘a spastic colon’.
Lies are used to disguise the characters real feelings, they live a lie putting on ‘jewelled sandals’ and ‘cream silk underwear’ to stop their feelings being shown. Gooper and Mae are partners in games of lies and deceit, working together to get their wishes, the inheritance from Big Daddy.
The name Big Daddy suggests a physically imposing man with a big ego and Big Mama suggests a frightening woman, head of the family, a matriarch. Their names suggest how they would like others to see them but they do not all live up to them. The family of characters hides from the things that scare them through lies but the lies are always discovered.
They use lies to insulate themselves from the truth. Maggie and Brick’s relationship is described as ‘on the rocks’ from the start of the play. Maggie’s life with Brick is becoming like her mother’s, married to a drunk. Brick is controlling over Maggie, she is like a wild lion and he is her tamer. Also Brick’s character grows more and more like Big Daddy’s and at the end of the play repeats his line, ‘wouldn’t it be funny if that were true’. Even at the beginning of the play their conversation is strained as Brick pretends not to hear his wife in his desperate attempt to cool down from the situation.
The sound of a shower is heard on stage and the pathetic shouts from Brick as he avoids talking to Maggie, ‘I couldn’t hear ya’. Williams uses temperature to describe the friction between Brick and Maggie, there is tension and the conversation is heated. Brick feels the constant need to cool down from the situation by taking a shower and putting ice in his constant drinks. ‘Fire’ and ‘Burning’ are used to show the tension between them especially Maggie who has internal desires and external pressures (coming from the other members of the family).
The marriage between Brick and Maggie is finished, they have produced no children and Maggie fails to encourage Brick to sleep with her, ‘lets make this lie true’. The pressure of other members of the household to produce children powers the stress in their relationship. Big Mama blames Maggie for their lack of children, ‘when a marriage goes on the rocks, the rocks are there, right there! ‘ pointing at the bed. This pressure also come from Mae who even at the end of the play when Maggie announces that she is pregnant does not believe her ‘I know she’s made this up’.
In Act 1 Brick is presented as a weak man, he gets weaker and weaker the more he drinks and is not strong enough to stop. The real reason behind Brick’s reluctance to go to bed with Maggie is his feelings for an old friend Skipper, he cannot until near the end of the play admit that he loved Skipper. He uses drink to re-live his past with Skipper, constantly ‘takin’ a little trip to Echo Spring’ – liquor, by doing this he can re-live his past as an athlete because he is unable to face up to being too old. Brick describes Maggie as ‘a cat on a hot tin roof’ clinging on to something that will kill her, their relationship.
They lie to themselves, Maggie lies about being pregnant ‘Brick and I are going – to have a child! ‘ and Brick lies to himself about the truth about Skipper and until near the end of the play about being a cripple, ‘I’m a restless cripple’, neither can face up to reality. The lies grow as Big Daddy’s birthday arrives; the household put on fronts to hide their ‘mendacity’. Maggie dresses herself up in ‘make-up’ to ‘face’ people and ‘glittery’ shoes to hide away the reality of her relationship to Brick. The ghastly characters of Mae and Gooper and ‘the no-neck monsters’ are shown to the full.
Maggie has to buy a present for Brick to give Big Daddy but he refuses to be part of the lie. Mae confronts Maggie about the hypocrisy of the present giving because she knows the truth. The main lie of the birthday surrounds the truth about Big Daddy’s test results, Big Daddy lies to himself. He knows he has cancer; he feels the pain but claims all it is, is ‘a little spastic colon’. He tries to look strong in front of the family by saying the word ‘CRAP’ all the time and makes himself feel bigger and more important by insulting Big Mama.
Big Mama also lies to herself, pretending that Big Daddy’s insults are not meant to hurt her and laughs the comments off as if they don’t affect her. Big Daddy is living in a fantasy world outside his marriage to Big Mama, he fantasises about sleeping with other women, ‘smother her in Minks and choke her in diamonds’. The birthday is woven with lies and deceit, the ‘no-neck monsters’ also put on a front to the family, singing songs about their love for their grandparents, which like the kindness of their parents is a front to make themselves look bigger and better than Maggie and Brick.
The truth about Brick’s feelings for his late friend Skipper are finally un-earthed by the strong conversations Brick shares with Maggie and Big Daddy. Brick has so far been unable to admit that he is gay and had feelings for Skipper but his conversation with Big Daddy is full of revelations. Big Daddy’s ‘feelings’ for Big Mama are let out and so are Brick’s feelings and the thoughts in his mind. Maggie knows about the connection between Brick and Skipper, she is nostalgic, telling stories of the past. She forceful, ‘I said, ‘SKIPPER! STOP LOVIN’ MY HUSBAND OR TELL HIM HE’S GOT TO LET YOU ADMIT IT TO HIM! – One way or another! she is shouting at Brick (this is why the quote is expressed in capital letters). In response Brick uses power over Maggie and threatens her saying that he wants to ‘hit’ her and that he could kill her with his ‘crutch’. Finally Brick is able to face up to his history with Skipper, as he drinks more and gets closer to ‘the click’ in his head. The liquor he drinks is called ‘Echo Spring’, the name itself suggests youth, freshness and addiction (repetitive drinking) and Brick uses it to relive everything he loved at college. He drinks because of ‘DISGUST’ and to numb the pain that he is feeling, ‘I’m in pain’.
Brick hates talking about Skipper, the thoughts ‘cripple’ him as Maggie tries to get him to admit that they were in love. Brick finally has to face the truth. Brick and Big Daddy deceive each other, Big Daddy shies away from the truth about his ‘spastic colon’, he cannot face up to the thought of ‘cancer’. He is crumbling, on the outside he shows that he is strong and tough but his hard exterior and strong language, ‘CRAP’ covers up his self-deceit. He feels pain and knows he has cancer. Brick also, to start with lies to Big Daddy and does not tell him that he has cancer even though he knows the truth.
Big Daddy expresses his feelings to Brick but Brick avoids the conversation, replying only in monosyllabic words such as ‘huh’ and ‘yeah’. Big Mama’s life is a fabrication of lies, everything she knows to be true, isn’t. She also cannot face the nature of Brick’s drinking problem, ‘my son drinks! ‘ her marriage to Big Daddy is really over and the love shown to her by Gooper, Mae and the children is a front. It is here that William’s uncovers the difficulty of conversation in the house; Brick says, ‘Communication is awful hard between people’, ‘we talk, you talk in circles! We get nowhere, nowhere! The characters’ attitudes to the future are dishonest. Maggie lies about her future with Brick to please others and protect herself from the comments of Big Mama and Mae by proclaiming that she is ‘going to – have a child! ‘ This is another example of the use of lies in the play, saying what people want to hear to ‘take the heat off’. Brick’s future is unclear but he will not be defeated by ‘the three little pigs’ (‘no-neck monsters’), Mae and Gooper’s children. It is left that Brick will be the predecessor of Big Daddy, ‘Jack Straw’, but the ‘alcoholic’ is in no state to take on such a role.
This is a lie, Brick although similar to Big Daddy is too weak to be ‘the new Big Daddy’. Big Daddy’s future however is set, ‘he is dying of cancer’, he no longer lives a lie and is forced to face the truth, unlike the others. Mae and Gooper’s future is not the dream they wanted, the family has revealed their intentions and they are left to face up to their own lies, ‘Gooper never drinks’. They are no longer the favoured side of the family since Maggie’s revelation, Mae is jealous of the Maggie receives and the end of the play, ‘that woman’s not pregnant! ‘He won’t sleep with you we here you’. The future for Big Mama is also a lie, at some point she will a have to face up to the truth about her relationship with Big Daddy and at the audience is left with the question, will Maggie ever have children by Brick? If not Big Mama is going to have to accept this and that her ‘precious baby’ is gay. The play ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ is a story of ‘mendacity’ and deceit. It shows how lies are used to cover up truths in order to fit in with the expectation of society.
Brick finds it hard to accept that he loves Skipper because he is scared of the reaction of those around him, he uses liquor as a way out, to escape his self-deceit and enter a fantasy world, ‘by the light of the silvery moon’ – hope for the future. He sees being gay as an embarrassment that affects his masculinity. Maggie’s ‘mendacity’ follows the same pattern; she too wants to fit in with the rest of the family but suffers from the pressures of Mae and Big Mama. These two threaten her and tease her because of her lack of children this questions her life as a woman, looked down on because she cannot conceive.
Mae is controlling of Gooper, she digs him in the ribs to stop him telling the truth and shares ‘quick violent looks’ with him. She begins the play socially accepted within the family but by the end is not in the same position. She builds herself up by putting Maggie down, by the end her comments have worn thin and she is ignored when she questions Maggie’s ‘pregnancy’, Big Mama only believes what she wants to hear. It is this pressure to fit in to the family that is the source of most of the lies in the play; the audience is constantly left guessing the future, the family’s lives beyond the death of ‘the boss’, Big Daddy.
Williams leaves the end of the play open to this guessing, will Maggie get pregnant by Brick? The real question though is will Brick be able to face up to the responsibility of replacing Big Daddy and will the uncovered lies mean a truthful future for the family? I think that this is an interesting way to leave the play as it does not end ‘happily ever after’ but there is finally hope for the future for Maggie and Brick now they have faced up to the truth.
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