Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Monday, May 13, 2013



Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
by Tennessee Williams
★★★★★

A southern family gathers to celebrate its patriarch Big Daddy’s birthday. His two sons are as different as can be. The elder, Gooper, is married to a nauseating woman and has five obnoxious kids with another on the way. The younger, Brick, is an alcoholic struggling with a horrible depression. His wife Maggie is beautiful, but is cracking under the strain of trying to hold her marriage together. Their complicated relationship seems irrevocably broken, though we don’t know why at first.

The play won the Pulitzer Prize for its deft portrayal of a family full of secrets. Contempt, greed, adultery, etc. the story is ripe with issues. Williams has a wonderful talented for capturing the fissure in relationships and people’s psyches. Brick is horrible to Maggie, talking to her with utter contempt. His treatment of his wife is a learned behavior. His father, Big Daddy, has treated his own wife with disdain for forty years. In his own words…

“All I ask of that woman is that she leave me alone, but she can’t admit to herself that she makes me sick.”

Maggie the cat’s loneliness is palpable. I’ve never encountered a character so isolated and trapped in her own life. Her husband Brick is so broken, whether it’s because of his feelings for his dead friend Skipper or his guilt over Skipper’s death or both. We know that Skipper loved Brick, but we don’t know whether Brick felt the same, only that he was so bothered by Skipper’s confession that he hung up on him.

BOTTOM LINE: The play is an enthralling portrait of loneliness. You can't look away.

**The edition I read had two versions of the third act. The first was the ending as Williams originally imagined it. The second was a rewrite that Elia Kazan encouraged Williams to do. Both are interesting, the major change is the absence or presence of Big Daddy.

 “Living with someone you love can be lonelier – than living entirely alone! – if the one that y’ love doesn’t love you.”

The 1958 film version makes a few major changes, notably the absence of any reference to homosexuality. It completely leaves out the bits about the former owners of the plantation. It makes Brick and Skipper’s relationship into a dependant friendship, but never touches on the issue of homosexuality. It also leaves us with a much more hopeful ending than the play does. It stars Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor; she is particularly mesmerizing as Maggie.

11 comments:

Bookworm1858 said...

I adore the film version of this-I cannot look away from the gorgeous Elizabeth Taylor and I rewatch it every time I stumble across it.

Jeanne said...

This play (and movie) is the reason no one I know can say the word "mendacity" without a southern accent.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Bookworm1858 - She is just incredible in it. It's almost painful to watch.

Jeanne - Yes! I want to use that word all the time now.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I've always wanted to see the movie, and I'm sure we will at some point. Although I sure wish they hadn't edited out the homosexual themes (but I know that was not a discussable topic back then.) But I'm intrigued with the novel's alternate endings!!! I love alternate endings.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Sandy - I think the alternate endings are interesting too. I'm not sure which I prefer with the play and movie, but overall I preferred the play version.

Jenners said...

I really must read this … and see the movie too. It has been a "should read/see" for me for a long time.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

It's good! And you can't beat Liz Taylor and Paul Newman at the height of their gorgeousness.

Fanda Kutubuku said...

Never read Tennessee Williams before, might try this one, but is it really bleak?

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Fanda - It's not too bleak. The relationships are certainly troubled, but it's really good!

JaneGS said...

I've only seen the movie and never seen the play or read it. I didn't realize that there were two endings--interesting. Great review--I liked your comments about Maggie's loneliness.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

JaneGS - I saw the movie before reading the play, so the ending was a surprise to me too.