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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof - Tennessee Williams

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Tennessee Williams

“Cat on a hot tin roof” is a play about the human experience in a society, which tries to dictate to people how they should live, and at a time where lack of human communication leads to the unavoidable loneliness of man. In the overcharged circumstances of a family crisis many truths are revealed about human feeling: our desperate fear of death, our love of life, our hidden guilt, our insecurities, our inability to face the truth, our materialism, our greatness, our pettiness…The impression given of man is of a dramatic helplessness, an inability to do anything else but be human…

   The play begins with the presentation of the historical family background and sets the scene for the development and climax of the crisis. All the characters seem to be suffering from loneliness and lack of communication. Williams is wary of a change in social values and the disintegration of the family unit as a result of a general social and global change. Big daddy’s words echo this concern: “sometimes I think that a vacuum is a hell of a lot better than some of the stuff nature replaces it with” i.e.. It is natural to grow and evolve but the product of this change is unpredictable and often negative.

   Big Daddy is, in fact, the embodiment of the American Dream, and through his character Williams shows how the American society has sacrificed all values in the temple of the most popular value in the world: money. The American Dream has an ugly face, and Big Daddy is a commercial success, but a failure in every other aspect. He has failed as a human being in that he centered his little empire around himself and became blind to the needs and feelings of those around him. Big Daddy himself acts as if money is his only value as a human being, or perhaps he’s afraid of this: “Y’know how much I’m worth? Guess Brick! Guess how much I’m worth!”

   An invisible struggle takes place within Big Daddy as he tries to approach Brick as a loving father approaches his needy child, exposing his innermost tenderness and insecurity. The conflict is between his love for his child and his determination to get to the truth, and the mentality of his upbringing in a poor family where the father was usually an unapproachable, distant figure. This is hinted in Williams’ stage directions: “glancing quickly, shyly, from time to time, at his son”, “pressing his head quickly, shyly against his son’s head, then coughing with embarrassment…”(displays of affection are “embarassing to him”).

   Through the difficulty of Big Daddy and Brick to talk openly and not around the subject, Williams displays the lack of communication between people, which leads to loneliness and isolation. The timeless, dramatic question is raised: “Why is it so damn hard for people to talk?” No human being can answer this question or any question concerning the infinite mystery of the human soul. The two men prove this as they talk and talk while saying nothing of essence and not listening to each other most of the time: “Communication is awful hard between people”. As Brick says: “We talk, you talk in circles! We get nowhere, nowhere!” However, Big Daddy’s care and willingness to understand is fierce and so is his determination to communicate with his son: “Don’t let’s- leave it like this, like them other talks we’ve had…it’s always like something was left not spoken”. Both men are about to find out that when they don’t avoid talking of the truth it’s “painful”, and as Big Daddy says, “Yeah, it’s hard t-talk”.

   Big Daddy and Brick are to some extent tragic characters, but if the play were a typical tragedy, they wouldn’t be the leading figures; the world as a whole would have the leading part. Williams skillfully incorporates the tragedy of the world into Big Daddy’s “Tallinn jag”. The tragedy of the world makes Brick’s problems seem petty. However, Brick’s problems are directly related to the world. A world that glorified him, a world he loved so much that he adopted all its prejudice. When he was no longer young and perfect, this same world dropped him like a hot brick. Now he’s disgusted with the world, disgusted with himself for being part of it, and so he isolates himself from it. Big Daddy accepted the ugliness and mendacity in the world, which made him hardened and cynical.

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