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
• 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
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
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
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
Is it better or worse to live a lie and lie to others?
The Pollitt Household
Family Tree:
Big Mama
(Sister Woman)
Big Daddy
+ Reverend Baugh
+ Reverend Tooker
Key Act One Notes
• 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.
• 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
• 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
• 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
Appearance vs. Reality
Power (who has it, who doesn’t, how does one get it?)
Sex / Sexuality / Identity
Imagery & Symbolism in the Play
• Imagery – Williams uses a variety of imagery (through description, metaphors, similes,
etc.) to help develop theme and character.
• 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!