Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Tennessee Williams's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Tennessee Williams
Born in Columbus, MS, Williams moved to St. Louis, Missouri as a child. His father was a heavy drinker, and his mother was prone to hysterical fits. At age sixteen, the already prolific Williams won five dollars for an essay entitled “Can a Good Wife be a Good Sport?” Williams attended the University of Missouri, where he frequently entered writing contests as a source of extra income. After Williams failed military training during junior year, his father pulled him out of college and put him to work in a shoe factory, which Williams despised. At age twenty-four, Williams suffered a nervous breakdown and left his job. He studied at Washington University in St. Louis and then at the University of Iowa, finally graduating in 1938.
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Historical Context of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
In the 1950’s, the Deep South was undergoing some major changes, with African Americans moving out of the South to urban centers in the North in drastic numbers (6 million people moved between 1910-1940 and 1940-1970). The South was beginning to experience more tension between its black and white inhabitants with the early beginnings of the Civil Rights movement, and in farming, cotton dominance was declining as more farmers turned towards soybeans and corn. In other words, many of the things that are taken for granted in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, like the wealth and security of the cotton plantation and the easy relations between the Pollitt family and their black help would likely not have fit into the real Mississippi Delta scene of the 1950s. The play doesn’t explicitly reference any of this, but it’s possible to take Big Daddy’s dying of cancer as a symbol of the Old South’s decline as well.
Other Books Related to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
As with all of Tennessee Williams’s plays, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof contains resemblances to characters from his own life. Just as his mother was a model for Amanda Wingfield’s character in The Glass Menagerie, Williams’s father was a model for Big Daddy’s aggressive character in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Like The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire also revolve around tense familial relations as well as memories, dreams, and different characters’ ideas about escape. Arthur Miller’s 1949 play Death of a Salesman also explores family dynamics and failed dreams.
Key Facts about Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
  • Full Title: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
  • When Written: 1955
  • Where Written: New York
  • When Published: 1955
  • Literary Period: Realism
  • Genre: Family Drama/Tragedy
  • Setting: Big Daddy’s plantation in the Mississippi Delta, 1950s
  • Climax: Brick confesses that he hung up on Skipper when Skipper confessed his love to him.
  • Antagonist: Gooper and Mae
Extra Credit for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Double Ending. After sending his original text to director Elia Kazan, Tennessee Williams wrote a significantly different version of Act III to present on the Broadway stage, following some of Kazan’s suggestions. Kazan had mentioned that Big Daddy seemed too important to disappear after Act II, that Maggie wasn’t clearly likable enough, and that Brick didn’t undergo enough of a character change.

Movie Version. Tennessee Williams apparently hated the 1958 film version of the play, featuring Elizabeth Taylor as Margaret and Paul Newman as Brick. The film version, abiding by Hollywood standards of the time, toned down Williams’s critique of homophobia and sexism.