Summary of Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a three-act play written by Tennessee Williams.

Act I

The play takes place entirely in the bed/sitting room of the politt plantation home in the Mississippi Delta. The plantation once belonged to a pain of bachelors and Big Daddy had worked for them as an overseer. Now Big Daddy owns it and most of the land for miles around and has built it into a dynastic empire. It is Big Daddy’s sixty fifth birthdays. He is in a celebratory mood because he has just received the results of exploratory surgery saying that the pains in the stomach are not due to cancer but merely a spastic colon. However, Big Daddy and his wife, Big Mama have not been told the truth. The rest of the family knows that he has terminal cancer.

The action takes place in the upstairs bed-sitting room because Big Daddy’s younger son ‘Brick’ broke his ankle the night before while attempting to jump hurdles on the high school athletic track following a drunken bout.

Brick and his wife are getting ready for Big Daddy’s birthday party when the first Act opens. It is clearly seen that Maggie resents the presence downstairs of her brother and sister-in-laws brood of five ‘no-neck monsters’ whose very existence are a reproach to Maggie, who has not produced any child with Brick. She wants and needs this proof of their readiness to take over the plantation. But, Brick, who suffers from a disinterest in the plantation and apparently life itself, refuses to sleep with her. His behavior stems from his unresolved relationship with Skipper, his best friend from college who died from drug and alcohol abuse.

Maggie recounts Skipper’s downfall. He began drinking after Brick and he established their own pro football team. A spinal injury kept Brick home for a few away games, which Maggie attended with Skipper. After drinking together, Maggie accuses Skipper of being in love with her husband. In response, Skipper attempts to prove his manhood to her. However he is unable to perform and assumes that her accusation is right. Skipper abandons his career and succumbs to the world of drugs and alcohol which kills him. She recounts this to Brick who in his drunken reverie attempts to hit her and misses. Maggie reminds him that unlike Skipper, she is alive.

They are interrupted by Dixie, one of Gooper and Mae’s children-Dixie blurts out that Maggie is jealous because she doesn’t have children. The Act does with Maggie’s declaration that the party guests have arrived.

Act II

Act II begins with the arrival of Big Daddy, Reverent Tooker, Gooper, and Mae. Big Daddy expresses his lack of enthusiasm for the celebration in a single word ‘Crap’. The overweight Big Mama very good naturedly jokes at her expense. Gooper and Mae ostentatiously draw attention to Brick’s drinking. Brick ignores it. Big Daddy is not impressed by the insincere birthday wishes, but Big Mama leads an outburst of emotions that Big Daddy does not have cancer. Big daddy is relieved too. He then interrogates Brick about the broken ankle, demanding to know whether he broke it ‘laying a woman’.

After the guests depart leaving Big Daddy and Brick alone. Brick drinks till he experiences oblivion. But Big Daddy wants to have a frank talk with his son. Big Daddy boast fullness of his sexual appetite and ease with the world of lies and it will only disgust Brick, who tries to end the conversation. Big Daddy pursues the issue ranking up the topic of the relationship between Skipper and Brick. Brick goes on the defensive and refuses to talk.

Big Daddy then shocks Brick by announcing that it was Brick’s rejection of Skipper that killed him. Skipper had called Brick to tell him about his episode with Maggie but Brick had hung up on his friend. The revelation of this truth leads Brick to retaliate- he declares that Big Daddy does have cancer and everyone assembled there knows it. The scene ends with Big Daddy’s rage, condemning his family and everyone as liars.

Act III

Everyone inquires where Big Daddy has gone. Big Mama presumes that he has gone to bed. After some prattling about the old man’s resilience and Brick’s drinking the younger people get down to business. Gooper, Mae and Maggie want to tell Big Mama about Big Daddy’s cancer and elicit her support about Big daddy’s cancer and garner her support in their competing plans to take over the plantation. They come to verbal bloms as each sarcastically attempts to reveal the covetous designs of the other. Throughout the scene Brick blandly looks at the moon.

Big Mama desperately appeals to Brick saying that he should have a child then Big Daddy would leave the plantation to him. Brick fails to respond but Maggie announces that she is pregnant. Mae and Gooper do not trust her but Big Mama rushes to break the news to Big Daddy. The scene ends with Brick and Maggie alone. She has locked up his liquor with the intention of giving it back only after he sleeps with her. The curtain falls as she turns out the light.

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