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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof - Tennessee Williams

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Tennessee Williams

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   Through Big Daddy’s explosive outburst of truthfulness, Williams explores the depth of human feeling and the melancholy and drama of a man who has to live a life as the world dictates it. Williams explores the mendacity in human behavior and questions institutions that are taken for granted. For example, we are brought up with the firm belief that our family must love us, and we must love our family. Through Big Daddy, Williams shows that love sometimes doesn’t come between family members. He wants to explore if it’s not so unnatural to feel this way.

   Williams is a master in presenting the dramatic “thwarted effort to break through walls to each other”. This is illustrated in Act II’s dialogue between Brick and Big Daddy, which slowly builds up the dramatic tension as Big Daddy comes closer and closer to the truth. Williams skillfully builds up the dramatic tension and supplements his writing with “visual” effects to reflect in the atmosphere the feelings within the characters e.g. as the tension comes to a climax, the fireworks appear.

   Through their marathon dialogue Big Daddy does manage to penetrate to the truth. The violent confrontation with the truth results in both father and son losing their “crutches”, the safety device, which helped them avoid the truth. Brick feels guilty for killing the false hope of life within his father, and tries to excuse his truthfulness by saying: “being almost not alive makes me sort of accidentally truthful”. A moral question is raised here: should a man be told he’s dying? (given that it is implied in the play that an “alive” man cannot be a “truthful” man). Is the truth a helpful force in such cases? If the truth kills all hope, should we accept it?

   Tennessee Williams makes it clear that the main concern and aim of the play is not to find clear answers for the characters. It is irrelevant if Brick is gay or not and what becomes of him and Maggie, and so a definite answer is not given. Williams is a playwright to be respected for accepting that he too is human. He doesn’t pretend to know all the answers to the infinite questions of life and character, as no human being can find definite answers. He clearly says: “The bird that I hope to catch in the net of this play is not the solution of one man’s psychological problem”.

   So Brick’s problems aren’t the most important thing in the play, even though they are presented and analyzed fully. Williams knows that we never really know who we are or who other people are as the human soul has the depth of an abyss: “a great deal of mystery is left in the revelation of character in life, even in one’s own character to himself”. In not attempting to give answers, Williams succeeds in being truthful and believable in his representation of human feeling and experience.

   The story of the characters in the play is just the means through which Williams gives his messages and captures the explosive depth of feeling experienced by a group of people at a time of crisis. He clearly defines his purpose in writing: “I’m trying to catch the true quality of experience in a group of people, that cloudy, flickering, evanescent- fiercely charged! - interplay of live human beings in the thundercloud of a common crisis”.

Book review by Anna Hassapi the big site