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Theatre / Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

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"I've got the guts to die. What I want to know is, have you got the guts to live?"
Big Daddy

A 1955 play that won Tennessee Williams his second Pulitzer Prize, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof has endured thanks to numerous productions ever since. Its best-known adaptation is the 1958 feature film directed by Richard Brooks, starring Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor and Burl Ives. There is also a 1976 Made-for-TV Movie adaptation starring Natalie Wood, Laurence Olivier and Robert Wagner.

The story concerns the Pollitt family, and all the ugly family issues that rear their ugly heads as they reunite for the birthday of its patriarch, Big Daddy. Big Daddy, unaware that he's dying of terminal cancer, tries desperately to connect to his angry, alcoholic favored son, Brick, who is married to Maggie. Meanwhile, the other family members try desperately to suck up to Big Daddy to get some of his fortune. Of course, tensions between father and son have to be resolved some time...

This work features examples of:

  • Adaptational Sexuality: Brick's homosexuality was all but erased in the 1958 film adaptation. As his deeply closeted sexuality was the character's entire motivation in the original script, this glossing-over was a major detriment that led to Tennessee Williams disowning the production.
  • All Take and No Give: Maggie holds her marriage and public standing together and makes herself physically and emotionally vulnerable to Brick, who detaches, drowns his sorrows in alcohol, and lashes out when provoked.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Maggie makes many speeches to Brick about how much she loves him, despite everything he's putting her through.
    • The film version has a variation with Big Daddy, as the anguish is a lot subtler. He tells the story of his own father, who was a tramp and hobo who rode the rails. Big Daddy claims that he was always ashamed of his father, resented him for leaving him nothing but a suitcase and his old military uniform, and generally worked as hard as possible to distance himself from the old man. But when Brick points out that he clearly loved his son, Big Daddy has a slow realization:
      Big Daddy: ...yeah. I loved him. I reckon I never loved anything as much as that lousy old tramp.
  • Arc Words: "Mendacity."
  • Babies Make Everything Better: By the end of the play, it's implied that Brick agrees to have one with Maggie. This signifies a big step in repairing their previously toxic relationship.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: In the 1958 film, Maggie goes out to the pouring rain and gets her hair soaking wet, but the next time we see her, it's perfectly dry and styled.
  • Broken Pedestal: Brick is shattered that Skipper killed himself, showing he was not as strong as he thought he was.
  • Brutal Honesty: At one point, Maggie angers Brick so much that he tries to hit her with his crutch, but he misses and falls. One of Gooper and Mae's kids runs in the room, and asks why he is on the floor. Brick calmly responds: "Because I tried to kill your Aunt Maggie. But I failed. And I fell."
    • Brick in general is this, as he admits to being an alcoholic and generally says whatever is on his mind without censoring himself. It runs in the family, as Big Daddy does the same.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Maggie, usually when she's needling Mae. ("Why did y'give dawgs' names to all your kiddies?")
  • Destructive Romance: Maggie and Brick. Maggie is desperately in love with Brick and, despite his outright telling her to leave him, says he's ruined men for her—it's him or no one. Brick also seems to love Maggie too, but is too involved in his own pain and stoicism to show it.
  • Die Laughing: In the film, Big Daddy tells the story of his father, a hobo, whose heart gave out while the two were running for a train. Big Daddy remarks that, despite having absolutely no money or a shred of hope about the future, "that old tramp died laughing." Brick points out why—he was happy because he still had his son with him, and that was all that mattered.
  • The Disease That Shall Not Be Named: Big Daddy has cancer (though this is hidden from him with a diagnosis of a spastic colon).
  • Downer Ending: The original ending was this. Later, Williams wrote a Bittersweet Ending at the insistence of the stage director, Elia Kazan. The published version of the play contains both endings, with Williams offering the reader to choose between them.
  • Driven to Suicide: Skipper.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Brick. He explains that drinking causes a "click" in his head, that makes him feel peaceful.
  • Dysfunctional Family: Like you wouldn't believe.
  • Empathic Environment: In the movie version, a storm rises and starts to rage at the point where Brick and Big Daddy start arguing, it downpours (as if nature itself were crying) when Big Daddy learns the truth about his illness, and the storm dissipates entirely once all of the conflict of the movie has been resolved. (At one point Big Daddy even compares the storm raging outside to the one raging inside his own house.)
  • Enfant Terrible: Gooper and Mae have five rambunctious, poorly-disciplined children who Maggie calls "no-neck monsters". And they have a sixth on the way.
  • Epigraph: The last stanza of Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas is used as an epigraph in the published version of the play.
  • Everybody Knew Already: Inverted. Everyone tries to keep Big Daddy's impending death from him, but he already knows.
  • Fake Pregnancy: "I've got life in me, Big Daddy!" It's up to the reader to wonder if Big Daddy's response is that he genuinely thinks she's pregnant or if he knows she's lying and is just enjoying the lie.
  • Gayngst: An Ur-Example, at least in terms of theatrical works; only Lillian Hellmann's The Children's Hour predates it in terms of "gay characters struggling over their sexuality." It remains one of the best-known examples of the trope in drama, especially because Williams himself was gay.
  • The Ghost: Skipper, obviously. Some productions, due to the logistics of casting child actors and their relative on-screen uselessness to the plot, have Mae and Gooper's children never appear. When they're supposed to sing to their grandfather, one director simply had them be in the hallway to the bedroom and played a tape.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Brick and Skipper - at least that's what Brick claims.
  • Ignore the Fanservice: Maggie walks around wearing a sexy white slip, but Brick refuses even to touch her.
  • It's All Junk: In the film, Brick does this to his family's possessions to send a message to his father about the importance of personal love rather than material love.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Big Daddy.
  • Let Them Die Happy: Depending on interpretation, Maggie's reason for lying about her pregnancy is to let Big Daddy die believing that his family legacy will continue.
  • Lingerie Scene: Maggie has one at the beginning.
  • The Masochism Tango: Brick apparently hates Maggie, and he can't even bear to touch her - but he says that he won't divorce her.
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: Gooper and Mae have five "no-neck monsters", with a sixth on the way.
  • Meaningful Echo: "Wouldn't it be funny, if that were true?" Was first used in the original version, shows up in some productions from time to time, and can mean all the difference between a happy ending and a bittersweet one.
  • Meaningful Name: Big Daddy is larger than life in more ways than one. Brick lampshades the trope in the movie:
    Brick: What is it that makes Big Daddy so big? Is it his big heart, his big belly—or his big money?
  • Metaphorically True: After Maggie claims she's pregnant at the end of the play, Big Daddy studies her carefully and announces that she "has life in her," a statement which Big Mama and, in the film version, Gooper echo. It's possible that Big Daddy is speaking this way to help support what he knows is a lie; Maggie may not be pregnant, but she is vivacious and determined to survive, and so has a spark and drive—that is, "life"—within her body.
  • Model Couple: Both Brick and Maggie are stunningly attractive.
  • The Modest Orgasm: Brick brings it up at the end, saying that he and Maggie could have had sex without Mae and Gooper hearing it in the next room, because "not everybody makes much noise about love".
  • My Greatest Failure: Brick refusing to answer Skipper's phone call, possibly saving his life.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Mae, an irritating showoff who tries her best to pry into Big Daddy's good side in order to appeal to him so she'll be the next matriarch of the family.
  • Parental Favoritism: Both Big Mama AND Big Daddy ridiculously favor Brick over Gooper.
  • The Patriarch: Big Daddy.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: The vivacious, loud Maggie is the Red to Brick's calm, stoic Blue.
  • Right Through the Wall: Gooper and Mae know that Brick and Maggie are not having sex, because they share a wall, and they hear her pleading and his refusal.
  • Sealed with a Kiss: The 1958 film version ends with Brick kissing Maggie.
  • Sexless Marriage: The marriage between Brick and Maggie became this. This is about to change at the end. It might not be a good thing though.
  • Sibling Rivalry: Rather one-sided, since Brick never tries to be the favorite son, he just is.
  • Stocking Filler: Maggie is shown changing her stockings at the beginning of the film.
  • Streetwalker: When Big Daddy talks about his travels to other countries to Brick, he mentions that once in Morocco, a child prostitute so young she could barely walk tried to open his fly. He was so grossed out that he left the country instantly.
  • Title Drop: Maggie uses the title to describe her life: "What is the victory of a cat on a hot tin roof?"
  • The Topic of Cancer: Big Daddy has cancer, which is considered to be so horrifying that the doctor doesn't dare to tell it to him.
  • The Un-Hug: In the 1958 film, Maggie hugs Brick at one point. Brick instinctively raises his arms to hug her back... then lets them down and tells Maggie to let go.
  • Unnamed Parent: Big Daddy.
  • Unusual Euphemism: For example "Frig Mae and Gooper, frig all dirty lies and liars!"

Alternative Title(s): Cat On A Hot Tin Roof