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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Williams Glass House


The Communist-Homosexual
Kazan refused to direct the script of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Williams presented him in 1954
In the 1950s Communism was correlated with homosexuality to
make hatred of communism become part of the inner life of
American men. This psychosocial monitoring was supposed to
eliminate any desire for the feminizing ideology of Marxian
Had Williams been exposed as a gay man he would have lost all
of his standing in American theatre; so when Kazan told
Williams he had doubts about this play, Williams took this as a
veiled threat: If you dont change this play, I wont direct it, and
you will be exposed and ruined.

Kazans Demands
Kazan had problems with Williams representation of the
transactions between Big Daddy and Brick Pollitt.
Kazan viewed Big Daddys relationship with Brick through the
frame of Willy Lomans with Biff in Death of a Salesman.
Kazan wanted Big Daddys second act dialogue with Brick
to result in Bricks conversion in the third act.
Kazan also wanted Williams to turn Maggie into a more
sympathetic character.
Williams construed Kazans demands as examples of the
mendacity the play condemned.
Why did Williams play evoke Kazans disgust and indignation?

Brick Pollitt complicated the representation of the
communist homosexual in the public melodrama.
An athlete and mans man who personified a masculinist
ideal, and valued his relationship with his friend Skipper
more than his marital relationship with Maggie Pollitt. Brick
Pollitt exposed the contradictions Cold War masculinity by
inverting them.
Brick, who appears eroto-phobic, characterizes his idealized
relationship with Skipper as a meta-norm that transcends
the distinction between heterosexual and homosexual
relationships that it also founds.

Brick and Maggie

Bricks relationship with Skipper is meta-normal because it cannot
be classified as either homo-sexual or hetero-sexual. A meta-norm,
differs from a norm in that it transcends yet includes the distinction
between homosexual and heterosexual that it also regulates.
Brick does not associate his erotic impulses with his ideal love
object. Unlike Stanley, Brick does not base his manhood on his
sexual prowess. In the opening scene, Maggie describes Brick as a
wonderful person to go to bed with mostly because he is really
indifferent to it, never had any anxiety about it
In the 1950s the state monitored the most intimate aspects of US
citizens private lives to determine their patriotism. Bricks
transgresive embodiment of manliness constituted a betrayal of
American manhood (rendering him an enemy of the state).

Outing Brick
Gooper and Mae and Big Daddy need to normalize Bricks
meta-normal relationship by characterizing it as a legible
abnormality: His friendship with Skipper must be gay.
But in the midst of the confrontation between Brick and Big
Daddy, Williams writes the following stage direction:The bird
that I hope to catch in the net of this play is not the solution of
one mans psychological problem. Im 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 (85).
Williams has asked the audience to suspend the desire to resolve
the crisis by identifying Bricks psychological problem with
pre-existing representations.


Maggie the Survivor

The power of the Cold War state was linked to its
surveillance of the most intimate dimensions of US
citizens personal lives. When Maggie asks Mae if she is
with the FBI, she correlates Mae and Goopers lurid
need to know whether Brick and Maggie will make love
with the states surveillance powers.
The play produces a desire to know the inner secrets of
the characters even as it produces characters who ask us
why and whether we can ever know them.
Maggie, a version of Stanley Kowalski, is the bearer of
erotic desire. Brick lifted her out of poverty and into the
Pollitt plantation. But Brick will never again make love
with her because she violated his one true compact.

In Between Men Eve Sedgwick famously argued that homo-social bonds,
bonds between men on the athletic field or in fraternities, have the
potential to become homo-erotic. Bonds between men remain straight
by scapegoating homosexuals who eroticize them. Sedgwick concludes
that such male bonds are in fact constituted out of the homosexuality
they exclude.
When Williams wrote Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, those exclusions had become
the socio-political norm. Maggie in effect enforced this norm when she
persuaded Skipper to recognize that his relationship with Brick was in
fact homosexual. She demanded that he either stop loving Brick or admit
that he did. Like Stanley, Maggie wanted to get rid of a rival. Skipper
drank and drugged himself to death after that recognition scene.
Brick considers Maggies treatment of Skipper a violation of everything
he holds sacred. So he changes his compact with Maggie into his
perpetual re-enactment of the death of love.

Big Daddy
Homoeroticism was once the norm in the Pollitt household. The entire
first act is performed in what used to be the bedroom of the two men
who gave Big Daddy the plantation, Peter Ochello and Jack Straw. After
they adopted him, Big Daddy became the principle of reproduction and
fertility of their estate.
Bricks disgust with sexuality originated in his repulsion at the sexual
relation between Straw and Ochello. Bricks believes his father somehow
exonerated himself from his debt to his two gay patrons by offering his
son to them as an oblation. If Brick admits he is gay, Big Daddy can pass
on the estate he inherited to a son who has reproduced Ochello and
Straws way of life.
These tacit dimensions of the relationship between Big Daddy and Brick
become evident at the culminating moments of their Second Act
confrontation. When Big Daddy explains that he finds nothing wrong
with his gay relationship to Skipper, Brick replies that he cannot be called
queer and survive.

Brick and Skipper

Big Daddy was diagnosed with cancer. He thinks he has received a
reprieve. He gives thanks by turning Brick away from his
It is Bricks alcoholism that Big Daddy cant abide, not his
relationship with Skipper.
The best precedent for Brick is Jamie in Long Days Journey.
Alcoholism was Jamies means of staying bonded to Mary when
she lost her relation to life. Brick proves his fidelity to Skipper by
dying the same way Skipper did. He says he drinks until he hears a
click, the last sound Skipper heard after he confessed his truth.
Alcoholism is Bricks means of communicating with the dead. He
talks to the dead through the same language that took Skipper.
Alcohol renders him fluent in the underworld with Skipper.
Brick proves the truth of that bond by living its death rather than
the worlds mendacity.


Third Acts
In Williamss version, Brick continues to drink until he hears the
click, and Maggie turns the statement that she pronounced at the
end of the first act They gloat over us being childless Ive
been completely examined, and theres no reason why we cant
have a child whenever we want one into the truth.
After Brick becomes drunk enough to hear the click connecting
him with his dead lover, Maggie takes her lover, whose
consciousness is now, like Orpheus, in the underworld, by the
hand to draw a child out of him while he is unconscious.
In Williams final act, Maggie will make love with Brick while he
is asleep with his lover so as to draw a child out of the death of
their love.


Second Thirds
In version Williams wrote for Kazan, Big Daddy comes
back in the third act and expresses erotic interest in Maggie,
thereby suggesting that he is going to father the child his
son wont.
By turning Big Daddy into the potential father of Maggies
suppositious child, Williams agrees to Kazans demands
even as he exposes them as in collusion with the mendacity
he wrote the play to exorcise from the public imagination.
The difference between the two third acts discloses the
difference between Williamss vision and the great public
melodrama that demanded its exclusion.