Elise Janowicz
Modern Literature
Act III versus Act III
Tennessee Williams creatively publishes two versions of Act III in the script Cat on a
Hot Tin Roof. In a small selection after Act III, he explains that he gave the first draft of the play
to director Elia Kazan, who was extremely pleased with it, but doubted some parts within Act III.
Kazan devised a list consisting of three major changes he felt should be reconsidered for a way
to better Act III. His revisions consisted of bringing Big Daddy back into the play because he is
too central of a character, Brick changing and achieving a realization, and Margaret becoming
more sympathetic. Although his suggestions may have been beneficial in his point of view,
Williams did not necessarily agree with all of them. But, because Williams seriously wanted
Kazan to direct the play, he modified the play to Kazan’s liking, thus an alternate version of Act
III is published along with the original. It is quite apparent why Kazan wanted to alter the play
because it would have been difficult for an audience to thoroughly enjoy it, considering how
bleak the ending is. Interestingly, a lot seems to change in the two different scripts, particularly
the understanding of the conclusion, yet Kazan still keeps a large amount of the Act in its initial
form. Williams’s version of Act III may superficially be less pleasing, but its’ ultimate tragic
value seems to be much greater than one that is simply attractive for entertainment purposes
only.
Maggie is declared as “a cat on a hot tin roof” or acting “catty” several times throughout
the play, but there is no mention of that whatsoever in William’s Act III (25, 26). Yet, Kazan
obviously feels a need to reiterate it because he includes the references in his version, “You’re a
live cat, aren’t you?” (143). Maggie is described as a cat on a hot tin roof because she is a
desperate woman in an awkward situation with the family she has married into. She is
embarrassed that her husband will not participate in conceiving a child, and she is envious of
everything else that she cannot have. Because these affairs are unpleasant, she and family
members consider her to perhaps be parallel to a feline on an uncomfortable surface. When she
agrees to being a cat, “You’re damn right I am!” it is a cry for help (143). The addition of this
quote portrays Maggie as a more compassionate character, causing the audience to appreciate her
more.
Big Daddy is the idea of the American Dream. He sacrificed so much to get to the point
where he is now and is extremely respected because of that. But Kazan exposes a juvenile side
of Big Daddy when he returns in Act III. He makes an entrance with a joke that is very out of
place. He carefully chooses what he says, “Ain’t I tellin’ this story in decent language, Brick?”
possibly attempting to sound mature or educated, however he only sounds foolish. Later, he
makes a speech that is simply not believable because he has just exposed such a childish quality
within himself. The speech is a strange reaction after finding out Maggie is supposedly
pregnant, “I’m goin’ up on the roof to the belvedere on th’ roof to look over my kingdom before
I give up my kingdom—twenty-eight thousand acres of th’ richest land this side of the valley
Nile!” (167). Additionally, It seems to be too intellectual for such a juvenile character, as he has
just revealed. Kazan wanted Big Daddy to appear again because he is such an important
character, but his portrayal in Act III does not contribute any to his significance, in fact what he
does with his character is too much of a change.
Kazan aims to make Maggie desirable to the audience in Act III than she appears in
Williams’s version. This was the one suggestion that Williams agreed with because she was
“becom[ing] steadily more charming” to him (135). It is interesting though, that Mae and
Gooper did not require any changes despite their selfish actions to their family members. It is
true that Maggie is a main character, the cat, and has several emotional issues, thus she deserves
to be cared for by the audience. But Mae and Gooper appear to have some problems, as well.
Jealousy is a concern to them when it comes to Big Daddy’s love, “I don’t give a goddam if Big
Daddy likes me or don’t like me or did or never did or will or will never!” (156). Clearly, he
resents Brick for being favored, but Big Daddy must mean something to him or else he most
likely would not have caused such a commotion. They are also depicted as greedy when they try
to convince Big Mama to give them her land, “I’m askin’ for a square deal an’ by God I expect
to get one” (157). Considering that Big Mama has just heard devastating news about her
husband, one would not usually expect to discuss materialistic things such as property during this
point in time, but they give off the impression that their future is more important than their
mother. It is to be considered that Kazan may have cleverly left Mae and Gooper alone because
the drama that they cause interests an audience because of the spectacle they create, and that is
what seems important to him.
The ways that Maggie announces her pregnancy is fairly different, and is very intriguing.
In Williams’s script Maggie says, “Brick and I are going to—have a child!” (127). This sounds
like she certainly is pregnant, but it could also be interpreted as having a child in the future. Of
course, the family reacts as if her statement is true-that she is pregnant, but her crafy word choice
represents how anxious she truly is to have a child. The slight pause she takes before her
declaration shows that she is hesitant about this lie, and perhaps she is unsure that she can turn
this lie into truth. The way Kazan announces the pseudo-pregnancy is similar, yet still very
different, “A child is coming, sired by Brick, and out of Maggie the Cat! I have Brick’s child in
my body…” (167). In this Act Maggie confirms that there is a child in her body at the present
moment, which is a undoubtedly a lie. Again, her vocabulary is carefully chosen because she is
mentally acknowledging that there is still some life left in Maggie the Cat, and she refuses to
give up on Brick. Essentially, she is giving herself an ultimatum, that she must conceive a child
as soon as possible.
Brick’s reaction to how Mae and Gooper treat Maggie after she states she is pregnant is
completely altered between the two versions. Williams reinforces Brick’s collapse because he
does not get involved in the conversation at all. This is most likely what Kazan believed to be
too hardcore for a Broadway audience, but its’ intensity is what makes Brick’s character seem so
real. Kazan chooses to include Brick in this conversation by sticking up for Maggie, “Even if
y’got a peep-hole drilled in the wall, how can y’tell if sometime when Gooper’s got business in
Memphis an’ you’re playin’ scrabble at the country club with other ex-queens of cotton, Maggie
and I don’t come to some temporary agreement? How do you know that—?” (170). This is
designed to begin a transformation of his character. He goes on, “This girl has life in her body”
(170). It is obvious that he is lying, but he is lying for Maggie’s sake and for the sake of their
relationship as a couple, which could be considered admirable because of the change he makes
so quickly.
The final line of the play is illustrated tremendously different in each script. Brick
concludes Williams’s version with Maggie emphasizing her love for Brick and him responding,
“Wouldn’t it be funny if that were true?” (133). Brick never comes to an awareness of how he is
affecting his family members, which is utterly tragic. But he does realize that Maggie does not
only love him, she also loves the idea of having a child with him, and the money that comes
along with that, which highlights reasons why he does not make a transformation. Kazan ends
his script with Brick admitting to admire Maggie, and then her finale, “I’m determined to do it—
and nothing’s more determined than a car on a tin roof—is there? Is there, Baby?” (172). The
optimism described in these last lines is pleasurable to an audience because there is a noticeable
shift in the character of Brick, and along with Maggie’s perseverance they are expected to
conceive. This kind of resolution is exactly what Kazan was looking for.
It is entirely understandable why a director would prefer to take on a script that is
adjusted to amuse an audience, and Williams clearly agreed; however, it was crucial for Kazan to
keep the majority of the Act the same. The alterations that Kazan made were favorable in
several ways, but some were unsuitable for the overall purpose Williams was aiming for.
Brick’s character is not one that can make such a big conversion in only one Act. The emotional
state he is in is partially caused by how he was raised with such admiration from his family, and
the ability to free himself from an alcohol problem is not done in such a quick manner as Kazan
demonstrates. Perhaps Kazan should have directed the play as the original version and observed
how an audience reacts to such a tragedy. Williams wanted a tragic ending to his play because it
faces the reality of the lies and harm in the world that are too often hidden.