The dominant morality in Tennessee Williams’ ?Cat on a Hot Tin Roof? can not be discussed in terms of a single, easy-to-understand theme.
Rather, I detected a number of disturbing themes in this play which, unfortunately, also seem to be present in our modern society. These themes explain much of the behavior we see today, both in our elected officials and in our own private lives. They include the willingness to engage in back-stabbing and flattery to get what we want, the attempt to escape reality by indulging in alcohol and drugs, the tendency for married couples to remaining together in meaningless or even violent relationships, and the tendency of people who become materially wealthy to turn into total jackasses. One of the most obvious moral conflicts in ?Cat on a Hot Tin roof? is visible in the campaign by Gooper and Mae to gain the favor of Big Daddy, while at the same time discrediting Brick and Margaret. They try to twist the facts in order to portray themselves to Big Daddy as the most qualified heirs for the inheritance. For instance, they try to imply that just because they have five children (with a sixth on the way), they are therefore responsible family people who will take good care of the plantation.Order now
At the same time, they cleverly argue that because Brick and Margaret have no children, they would not be responsible in managing a large estate. Gooper and Mae act as a public relations team, flattering Big Daddy while tearing down their competitors at every opportunity. The excel in back-stabbing and flattery, yet they are always careful to maintain the appearance of being polite and civilized. To a lesser extent, we also see the same theme of hypocritical behavior on the part of Reverend Tooker and Doctor Baugh, both of whom engage in flattering Big Daddy in the hopes that he will include them in his will. I don’t think we have to look very far in our own world to see the consequences of a society which approves of back-stabbing and flattery as a way of ?getting ahead.
? All the world’s newspaper headlines are full of stories on a daily basis of politicians and other individuals in positions of responsibility who abuse and betray the people who count on them. And along with the growth of professional liars (politicians) we’ve also seen an explosive growth in numbers of lawyers whose job, of course, is to write lots of ?fine print? to hold each of us accountable, because nobody’s word of honor means anything any more. Another dominant moral theme in this play, is the willingness of married partners to exploit and hurt each other. We see this unhealthy attitude toward marriage between Brick and Margaret. For instance, Brick reminds Margaret that they are living together only because she has agreed that they do so in name only. When Margaret complains that this sort of phony relationship is not what marriage should be all about, Brick coldly suggests that she go out and have an affair to keep herself sexually satisfied.
Margaret, to her credit, is not willing to pursue this sort of shallow relationship. She tells him that she wishes to have a normal sexual and loving relationship with him, but that until that time she would prefer to remain ?a cat on a hot tin roof,? being frustrated and angry with the whole situation but hopeful that things will change. Brick, however, as in the case of so many alcoholic wife-abusers, does not appreciate the devoted mate he has in Margaret. He is bitter and cold, and expresses his amazement that Margaret could possibly want to have a child with a man who hates her. However, amazingly, Margaret stays with him in spite of his abuse. In the real world today, we also see many relationships in which couples do not show each other the respect they should.
Men continue to batter and abuse women, and society doesn’t seems to really care. On the other hand, many married women feel helpless or financially dependent and so they stay married to total jerks, hoping against hope that they can ?change him?. Certainly another dominant morality we see in Williams’ play is the unwise choice to escape the challenges of life by indulging in alcohol. This is typified in the behavior of Brick, a former sports hero who has become an alcoholic and is now presently on crutches because of an accident he suffered while drunk. When confronted with a life situation that disturbs him, Brick begins drinking continuously, putting down the bottle only when he is convinced he hears a ?click? in his head which indicates that he has passed safely out of the world of reality and into his own inner alcoholic fantasy land. There is certainly no shortage of drug or alcohol abuse in our society today, just as in Williams’ play.
Kids as young as 10 or 15 are sometimes found taking drugs or drinking, and it seems like there is no end in sight. Lives are ruined, I think, in any society which permits this sort of escapism to continue in our young people. Yet another dominant moral theme I observed in this play is the tendency of people who become rich to quickly turn into the most treacherous, nasty and cruel persons imaginable. We see this unfortunate pattern in the person of Big Daddy Pollit.
He is a big, fat, conceited and obscene man. He thinks that because he has lots of money he can curse at anyone he pleases, especially Big Mama. He does not even pretend to be a good person. Although he does seem to possess a redeeming quality that allows him, at times, to be honest and strong, this does not change the fact that most poor people do not act in such a conceited way.
In other words, Big Daddy thinks that because he has money he therefore is above criticism. After all, if anybody complains about his uncivilized behavior all he has to do is cut them out of his will. Throughout ?Cat on a Hot Tin roof? the message is repeated, that achieving money, land and power are the goals of life. Anything that stands in the way of obtaining them is unimportant or, at least, can be postponed until material wealth is achieved first. Honesty, integrity, and even love are quickly abandoned at the call of the Almighty Dollar. Big Daddy’s repeated description of the plantation reinforces this myth that man can avoid death by buying up all the material goods in life that he can (?Twenty-eight Thousand Acres Of The Richest Land This Side Of The Valley Nile!?).
It does not take much imagination for me to envision a world based on the morality portrayed in ?Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. ? Indeed, as I see it, Williams has simply mirrored much of the moral conflict which is already present in our society today. What will it take to reverse these unhealthy dominant moral themes in today’s world? That, as they say, is the ?Million Dollar Question. ? Perhaps we should just put more emphasis on religion in our schools. Or maybe the solution lies in fixing whatever is wrong with modern marriages that causes more parents to get divorced than to remain together. Or perhaps we should start insisting that Hollywood and MTV stop idolizing rich people who are evil and cruel, and instead adopt folks like Mother Theresa as our kids’ role models.
In any case, I think that Williams ?Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,? is not so much a fictional play as a mirror that forces us to take a good look at ourselves.