Last Updated 26 Jan 2021

Tennessee William’s Battle with Homosexuality Through Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

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Tennessee Williams' Battle With Homosexuality Through Brick Tennessee Williams wrote a variety of plays over the course of his life. Although all his characters have differences from play to play, there are many patterns that can easily be recognized which reflect his struggles in his daily life. What can be noted in the patterns is not only the words the actor speaks or what is said on stage, but also the direction Williams gives them. Certain directions seem to be subtle speeches from Williams. Much of the direction is not just a movement but a literal feeling from Williams.

The portrayal of Brick in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof mirrors the emotional struggle Williams had with accepting himself as an openly gay man in a closeted society. Reading Williams' plays, you get the vague idea of what his personal life and family were like. He grew up with an alcoholic father. His mother was distraught. After a childhood illness, Williams didn't grow into the broad shouldered, strong man his father wanted him to be. Although he knew his sister, Rose, was in trouble living with his father, Williams still left for college.

Rose was more outspoken about their father's insane behavior caused by the alcohol, however she was forced to have a lobotomy in 1937 which left her brain damaged. Williams could neither “assert himself during family quarrels nor retreat” (Hayman 44). After going to the University of Columbia for a stint and failing out of military training, his father pulled him out and put him to work at a shoe factory in St. Louis. His hatred for the monotonous work of the shoe factory drove him to fill all his spare time with writing. Williams' writing included much of his past with his dysfunctional family.

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After Williams' enrolled at Washington University, his parents separated due to his raging alcoholic father. His outlet for being so misunderstood by his family, but also for running away, was his writing. Throughout the 20th century, there were a number of plays written about homosexuality. Although the topic was either avoided or never straightforwardly asked nor answered, Williams' characters had an internal battle with themselves. Coping with vices such as alcohol was common in his writings. “The plays were appeals for tolerance,” Hornby states, Misunderstood and despised—sometimes even by himself... the homosexual had to come to grips with an excruciating problem. ” Brick portrayed through his physical ailment, alcohol abuse and heartbreak over his dear friend, Skipper, became the prime example of how “homosexuality became a metaphor for self-knowledge, a growing awareness of the weaknesses and mortality that we all have” (278). Williams' stage direction paints the picture before the play even begins. In stage direction prior, we find out that the plantation, which will at some point be inherited hopefully by Brick has an odd past. [The room] hasn't changed much since it was occupied by the original owners of the place, Jack Straw and Peter Ochello, a pair of old bachelors who shared this room and all their lives together. ” An element of suspense through Cat On A Hot Tin Roof is that there is no solid proof of homosexual activity confirmed, only assumed by the audience. He goes on to state that, “the room must evoke some ghosts; it is gently and poetically haunted by a relationship which must have involved a tenderness which was uncommon” (880).

In Bibler's analysis of the structure of plantation life during this time, he discusses the importance of this “mythic love, loyalty, and devotion” present in the past relationship their life is now built upon. Williams' addition of the stage designer notes cause Brick's insecurities to seem as though he is regressing from the strength of the previous owners' “unnatural” relationship. From the beginning of “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof,” Maggie is not appreciated, barely recognized, and needs more out of their relationship, especially children.

Going along with the consistence of most of Williams' plays, Brick is the self-loathing drunk and Maggie is the tense, crazy wife. She puts up with so much due to her goals of family money from Brick's side. Her husband is an attractive man despite his injury and vices as Maggie is also portrayed and beautiful yet Brick has no interest in her. She is on edge because she is lonely yet still in a relationship with the shell of a man she once knew. Brick refuses to make love to her so they will not have an heir of their own. He has an injury to his leg which is a constant reminder of memories with his deceased friend, Skipper.

His literal injury needs his crutch while his loneliness relies on alcohol. In the first scene, it is brought to the attention of the audience that the relationship between Brick and Skipper was fueled by more than just a common friendship and was emotionally stronger than something which could be considered so simple. The play opens with Maggie attempting to woo Brick and with no success, in the second scene, it seems she snaps. Maggie is dramatic trying to get a reaction out of Brick, yet his offer is for her to just take another man.

Simple as that. She then tries to forcefully have him and there is then the comical scene of Brick fending Maggie off with a chair as if she is a crazed animal. The lack of a passionate relationship between Brick and Maggie is due to his closeted homosexual desires. Maggie is the sexually frustrated and figurative “cat” on a hot tin roof. The man she loves and wants has no interest in her. He is basically handicapped by, not only his sexual desires at that time, but also emotional. This as a mirror of Tennessee Williams' actual life.

He was commonly, “wanted but women he quite liked, without feeling any desire for them” (Hayman 147). In another way, Williams felt guilt for leaving his sister behind much like Brick felt guilty for Skipper's confession of his love followed by his death. Williams also had his own vices, whether it be alcohol or sedatives, to deal with the “crippled” aspect of his own life fueled by being misunderstood in a dysfunctional family. By this time of his career writing Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, he had the standing as a wealthy white man. He portrayed himself in Brick as a closeted homosexual regardless of being out.

His lifestyle choices could be skated around in daily life yet he would never be accepted in society at that time. Nearing the end of the first act, Brick makes a statement of honesty that is close to admission. “One man has one great good true thing in his life,” Brick states, “One great good thing which is true – I had friendship with Skipper... Not love with you, Maggie, but friendship with Skipper” (Williams 45). It is never fully stated through the play the full truth of what happened between Brick and Skipper other than the two of them holding hands as friends across two twin beds.

However, his statement addresses the emotional intimacy of their relationship between the men. Disregard physical judgements and the friendship between the them was still stronger than the marriage Brick has with his wife, Maggie. Williams struggled in his own personal life with all the personal issues he presented through Brick. “Williams exercised the caution of a man living in times of intolerance concerning homosexuality, homophobic sentiments which he did not share,” explained Canadas,” but, rather, challenged, subtle — even, covert — as his methods may appear with the benefit of hindsight” (58).

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Tennessee William’s Battle with Homosexuality Through Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. (2017, Apr 27). Retrieved from

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