Close Reading: Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and Summons To Memphis
Tennessee Williams’s play Cat On A Hot Tin Roof chronicles the life of the Pollitt’s, an affluent family residing in the Mississippi Delta. Taking place in the family’s plantation home, main characters Big Daddy, Big Mama, Brick, Gooper, their wives, Maggie and Mae and the grandchildren reunite to celebrate Big Daddy’s sixty-fifth birthday. Right from the opening scene readers are already immersed in a dramatic web of lies beginning with the Pollitt children’s decision to conceal Big Daddy’s diagnosis of terminal cancer from him. This deceit accompanies a list of other lies that coincide and contribute to the play’s tension, focusing mainly on the unhappy marriage between Brick Pollitt and his wife Maggie. Tension and deceit escalate further with Brick at odds with his brother Gooper over who inherits the estate and fortune of Big Daddy. The biggest deceit of all is the one Brick conceals from himself and his family. Brick is tormented over the death of his best friend Skipper and becomes an alcoholic to avoid confronting the truth. Mendacity, lies and deceit and especially how they shape one’s life and affect one’s relationships with others are central to the theme of this play.
Williams masterfully creates a scene that highlights the innate action for humans to twist, destroy or ignore truth and the reality of what lies beneath the veil of denial. Big Daddy is insistent in helping Brick realize his guilt due to his mendacity. Ironically, Big Daddy is center to a huge lie himself. Williams utilizes the unique disposition of each character to fully exploit the construction of truth and the natural habit of all people to veer from it and instead submit to lies.
“What do you know about this mendacity thing? Hell! I could write a book on it! Don’t you know that? I could write a book on it and still not cover the subject? Well, I could, I could write a goddam book on it and still not cover the subject...