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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Other Plays - Tennessee Williams

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Genre: Music / Stage / Screen / Author: Tennessee Williams / Edition: New Ed / Paperback / 336 Pages / Book is published 2001-11-29 by Penguin Classics

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      01.03.2009 14:33
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      One of the greatest plays of all time

      'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' was a Pulitzer Prize- winning play, written by Tennessee Williams in 1955, and remains to be one of the most celebrated plays of all time. This is a play about a humans' inevitable repercussions of living a mendacious life, merely to fit in to conventional, society norms which try to dictate how a person should live their life. However, under the tense atmosphere of a family crisis, the character's repressed guilt, hidden insecurities and unspoken feuds are finally forced to surface. Williams once stated that 'we're all of us sentenced to solitary confinement within our own skins'. In this play, society acts as a device to keep our inner expressions silenced, but Williams perfectly uses the characters within the play, to demonstrate that silencing your true emotions leads to inevitable calamity and self isolation.

      The play immerses the reader in immediate pathetic fallacy; it is a scorching, hot summers day which acts as a parallel to the unspoken, heated tensions between Maggie and her husband Brick. Maggie ostentatiously struts around the room whilst ranting about her sister-in-law, Mae's, little 'no-neck monster' children. Opposed to this, Brick remains cold and indifferent, following her rants with silences or monosyllabic answers. Maggie prostrates herself seductively towards Brick but with no reciprocation. At first, I found Maggie's incessant rants a bit long-winded, but I soon realised that the slow start and dialogue, was a device to foreshadow the gradual unveiling of a hysterical, dissatisfied woman who feels unloved by her husband. Even though Maggie's humour is bitchy, you can't help like this woman with her enthralling feistiness and sympathise with her tormented loneliness.

      This theme of silence is a motif within the plot and becomes the core embodiment of the play. Amidst this family crisis, Maggie refuses to follow 'the laws of silence' because things only fester and become malignant. She can no longer bear the relationship as she feels like a frustrated and jumpy 'cat on a hot tin roof'. Secrets begin to resurface as Maggie relentlessly forces him to speak of his unmentionable, suppressed past. Maggie reminds him of her affair with his friends, Skipper, claiming that they were both in love with him and only slept together to feel close to Brick. Skipper died soon after. Hence, comes the gradual reasoning to Brick's alcoholism and it seems he is trying to escape from an oppressed conscience. Furthermore, there are hints within the text of homosexual desires between Brick and Skipper. This is yet another unspoken reality of a person's inner desires which has been suppressed behind a mask of social conventionality. Williams flawlessly shows however, that when an inner silence brews, it will only lead to the most devastating consequences. Although, the play deals with such a grim subject matter, the script is also shrewdly witty and enthralling.

      Brick is staying with Maggie, at his father's exquisite house, full of servants galore and surrounded by his large, immediate family. His father, 'Big Daddy', is dieing of cancer but his family don't want him to know, and so he and his wife, Big Mamma, ignorantly believe that he only has a spastic-colon. This unspoken reality acts as a parallel to Brick and Maggie's unspoken, failing relationship as Big Daddy's imminent death is another reality that remains silenced in order to keep a façade of an idyllic, happy family. The plot driven force centres around the question 'who will be Big Daddy's heir'. Maggie talks about how Bricks' brother, Cooper and his wife, Mae, are money grabbing vultures who are exploiting Big Daddy's death. Mae looks down on Maggie for being childless throughout the play, and having children merely seems like device to win over Bid Daddy's affections. This depicts the shallow nature of the upper-class society that they resided in, where Maggie and Brick were deemed insuperior for not succumbing to the conventional norms of a traditional family, as it meant that there must have been something 'wrong' with their marriage. The servants enter with a birthday cake and Mae's children boisterously enter the stage with a grotesquely cringing sing-a-long for Big Daddy's birthday present. Big Daddy is seems, is also sick of silence; sick of the pretence, and rancorously ushers everyone out of the room except for Brick. In attempting to establish a certain intimacy with Brick, Big Daddy will call him to judgement and back to reality, helping him to become his rightful heir. He feels closer to Brick than Cooper; it is a narcassitic love, where Big Daddy sees his younger self in Brick, accepting the mandacious life that he is leading, but always having a sense of deep regret. Whereas Cooper couldn't be more of a mere product of the upper-class society; a superficial, money-grabbing egotist.

      In Big Daddy's ignorant realisation that he no longer has cancer, he talks about how he had merely 'married into society' and wants to find a beautiful, young woman and "hump her from hell to breakfast." Like Maggie, Big Mamma hysterically prostrates herself before her husband, demanding love and affection, sobbing that he has never believed that she loves him. 'Wouldn't it be funny if that were true', Big Daddy murmurs to himself, which becomes a symbolic phrase of the mendacity of these two women, who were predisposed to love, merely to conform to societies moralistic conventions.

      Williams uses the bitterly angry, Big Daddy, as a parallel to his son and the hysterical, unloved Big Mamma as parallel to Maggie. Hence, Williams illustrates that societies' morality is the enemy of human morality; it only creates an objective rulebook to how people should live their lives, ignoring the subjective individuality of a person's inner needs and desires. Williams uses Big Daddy, as a parallel to his son and the hysterical, unloved Big Mamma as parallel to Maggie. I feel he wanted to reflect 'history repeating itself' within the family, of a perpetual inner suppression, as a product of an unceasing judgmental society. Hence, we should learn that silencing your desires and inner expression, merely as a means to 'fit in' to society, will only lead to self perpetuated isolation and torment.

      Hidden homosexuality, guilty consciences, incessant mendacity of 'forced love' and the inadmissible reality of Big Daddy's imminent death, causes tensions to brew like the suffocating summer heat around them, leading to an inevitable explosive release. The play leaves us anxiously wondering who will become Big Daddy's heir; Cooper, who's wife is popping out babies left, right and centre, but have no real love towards Big Daddy, or Brick who may not live up to the standards of a traditional family, but maintains an unspoken but irrefutable sense of love for his father? This is truly an fantastic read and teaches the reader to stay true to one's self, rather than conform to the majority around us as a means to keep 'face'. After all, there is no victory for a 'cat on a hot tin roof'.

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        29.06.2001 06:05
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        I chose to read this play after studying '...Streetcar...' for my English A-level, and thoroughly enjoying it. Both that and 'Cat On A Hot Tin Roof' are very much character plays, whereby each character is explored through their interactions with one another. 'Cat On A Hot Tin Roof' is about a South American family who are facing a crisis. Big Daddy the 'head' of the home is dying from cancer. Two of the characters are brothers and they live at home with their parents as well as with their wives and kids. The whole play takes place in the middle of the night when tensions are high. The scene is set in a grand plantation home in the Mississippi Delta. The outside appearance conveys a civilised and cultured world. It is an oppressively hot night which is stifling, not unlike the atmosphere in the house. As the tension builds between the characters, thunder starts to break out. Greed and envy appear to be the driving force behind most of the relationships within the family. Big Daddy and Big Mama are surrounded by money and spending comes across as the main interest they share. Gooper (one of the sons) and Mae (his wife) make it clear that they think they should be the ones to inherit Big Daddy's property. Gooper is anxious that it will all go to Brick and Maggie as Brick is very obviously the favoured son. Both Gooper and Mae point out all of Brick and Margaret's 'weaknesses'in their marriage; that he is an alcoholic and she can't produce children. This is them trying to earn their way into Big Daddy's pocket. The relationship between Big Daddy and Brick is a major focus in the play. Big Daddy intiates a 'chat' with his son and attempts to draw Brick into 'heart to heart' but neither men are able to communicate their real feelings to each other. As Brick says: 'But this talk is like all the others we've ever had together in our li
        ves! It's nowhere, nowhere! - it's - it's painful...' Big Daddy finds it embarassing to display affection towards his son: '...pressing his head quickly, shyly against his son's head and then, coughing with embarrassment, goes uncertainly back to the table...' Both men feel lonely and isolated but it is too late for them to break the mould of the past. Brick reveals that it is his disgust with the world that has turned him towards drinking. Brick remains in a sort of controlled calm most of the way through their conversation until his father mentions his relationship with his recently deceased friend. Here it is intimated that Brick had homosexual relations with this man. Big Daddy doesn't approve and constantly comments on Brick's wife's figure, pointing out to him how lovely WOMEN are and what he 'should' be focusing on. Brick denies the relationship - probably because Big Daddy has treated the prospect of it as something shameful, and so he continues to drink. I like the way Williams set up a situation with relationships that seem plausible to an audience. He has shown how people of this nature respond to a crisis and how tensions become greater - almost to bursting point. Also he doesn't attempt to resolve the situation, but has left it with an ending which could go on to take any direction. I think this makes the situation more believable.

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          15.06.2001 02:10
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          There's nothing more determined than a cat on a hot tin roof. This is one of my favourite books, with so many issues looked as such as 'avarice avarice greed greed', family rejection, cancer sexuality and the breakdown of marriage. The plot focuses around Brick, the youngest son of a rich plantation owner called Big Daddy, as he faces up to his past and pushes his wife, Maggie the cat, away. Added to the confusion are the hints (never explicitly said) that brick is gay as his best friend was gay and Brick becomes an alcoholic as he watched Skipper slip away to drugs and alcohol - the path Brick himself seems to be following. The subplot is also the cancer of Big Daddy and the apparent similar situation of Brick’s parents as his father pushes his wife away as well, paralleling Bricks situation - with a wife he cannot stand and a son he never wanted. This son is bricks older brother Gooper, who with his obnoxious wife Mae tries to stop Brick inheriting the plantation so they can have it by pointing out that Brick is an alcoholic and won't touch his wife. This appears to be jealousy, as Big daddy never liked Gooper because it is suggested that he was an accident and was what forced Big Daddy to marry Big Mama. The final heated scene is one of the best pieces I have ever read. This is where it all comes out. For the first time Brick acknowledges his wife and defends her, backing her up when she falsely claims to be pregnant (her final gift to the dying Big Daddy). The ending is both happy and sad in my opinion as Brick asks 'how are you going to conceive a child by a man in love with his liquor?' to which Maggie throws his alcohol over the landing saying 'I'll not let the servants drive him to town to get any more until he has satisfied my needs' as brick has a broken leg from trying to recapture his college days whilst drunk. But for me the whole play is enca
          psulated by this quote: Maggie : I love you Brick : Wouldn't it be funny if that were true

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