Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Quotes

Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the New Directions edition of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof published in 2004.
Act 1 Quotes

When something is festering in your memory or your imagination, laws of silence don't work, it's just like shutting a door and locking it on a house on fire in hope of forgetting that the house is still burning. But not facing a fire doesn't put it out. Silence about a thing just magnifies it. It grows and festers in silence, becomes malignant.

Related Characters: Margaret (speaker)
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

Alone with her husband Brick in their bedroom, Maggie attempts repeatedly to engage him in conversation, especially as regards their broken marriage. Although Brick continually refuses to speak to her, Maggie insists that "laws of silence don't work," because they in fact make underlying issues worse. 

This quote increases our understanding of Maggie's moral philosophy, especially as it relates to the truth. Although she supports the decision to lie to Big Daddy about his health, when it comes to her husband and her marriage, she refuses to engage in lying or feigned ignorance. Brick has made communication nearly impossible--and disbelieves everything that she says--yet Maggie still insists on talking, believing any kind of communication to be better than "silence." 

It is also important to understand that the sorry state of Brick and Maggie's marriage is "fester[ing]" in her mind as much as it is in his. In truth Maggie, still deeply in love with Brick, will do whatever it takes to make him notice her, even if this means inciting him to rage and violence. 

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Hell, do they ever know it? Nobody says, "You're dying." You have to fool them. They have to fool themselves.

Related Characters: Margaret (speaker), Big Daddy
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:

As Maggie attempts to engage her husband Brick in conversation, she reveals that Brick's father, Big Daddy, is going to die from cancer, even though he thinks himself to be healthy. When Brick seems dismayed, Maggie expresses her viewpoint that this type of lying is simply the way of the world. In fact, she believes that the healthy must "fool" the dying in order to be kind and merciful. 

This exchange reveals an important fact about Maggie: she believes that, at times, lying is justified. Despite thinking herself an honest person, she condones the family's decision to fool Big Daddy about his health, since in her view, this is a normal and kind thing to do.

This attitude of Maggie's puts her in direct conflict with Brick, who claims to hate all kinds of lying, no matter what the cause. As the play continues, however, the lines between honesty and dishonesty continue to blur, and the two characters reveal that they have each at times acted against their supposed values. 

Yes, I made my mistake when I told you the truth about that thing with Skipper. Never should have confessed it, a fatal error, tellin' you about that thing with Skipper.

Related Characters: Margaret (speaker), Brick
Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:

Attempting to understand why her husband barely speaks to her and will no longer sleep with her, Maggie brings up what she believes is the cause: his close relationship with his best friend Skipper, whom Maggie believes was in love with Brick, as well as her own affair with Skipper. The fact that Skipper died soon after makes the topic even more fraught. As she speaks, Maggie's relationship to the truth grows increasingly complex. Although she told her husband the truth about her role in Skipper's ruin, Maggie now regrets doing so, believing that everything would have been fine if she simply had not confessed. 

Once again, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof reveals the gap between actions and admitting to those actions. At least on the surface, Maggie does not regret the decisions she made that may have led to Skipper's death; rather, she only regrets making Brick aware of her behavior. Maggie's morality is a complex and sometimes contradictory system, as this quote makes clear. 

One man has one great good true thing in his life. One great good thing which is true!—I had a friendship with Skipper.—You are naming it dirty!

Related Characters: Brick (speaker), Margaret
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:

Enraged that Maggie has brought up his dead best friend Skipper, Brick alternately begs and orders her to stop. She continues, however, implying that Skipper had sexual feelings for Brick. Furious, Brick asserts that his friendship with Skipper was the "one great good true thing" that he ever experienced, and that she is calling the relationship "dirty." 

Although the play does not make it clear whether or not Brick and Skipper had a sexual relationship--or whether Brick is a closeted gay man--it is clear that he has a complex and ambivalent attitude towards sex. In calling his bond with Skipper anything other than platonic, Brick believes that Maggie is demeaning and insulting it. To him, any mention of sex or sexuality automatically makes a topic or relationship dirty and contemptible. 

By this point, it is clear that Maggie and Brick have lost all ability to communicate. No matter how much Maggie protests that she does not mean to insult Skipper or his memory, Brick does not believe her. To him, everything his wife does is malicious and damaging, and everything she says is hurtful and intentionally cruel. 

In this way I destroyed him, by telling him truth that he and his world which he was born and raised in, yours and his world, had told him could not be told.

Related Characters: Margaret (speaker)
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

Maggie begins to reminisce, narrating the incident in which she confronted Brick's best friend, Skipper, about what she saw as his sexual desire and romantic love for her husband. Maggie acknowledges that telling this to Skipper--who died soon after of alcoholism and drug abuse--"destroyed him." because she told him a "truth" that "could not be told." In other words, by revealing to Skipper that he was gay, Maggie brought about his death. It is for this reason, she believes, that her beloved husband Brick now despises her. 

In this moment, Maggie illustrates what she views as the terrible power of truth. By bringing Skipper's feelings for Brick out into the open, she assumes that she ruined his life forever. This is a consistent pattern in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof: as disastrous as facts like unrequited homosexual love in the 1950s or a cancer diagnosis may be, the true disaster comes when these truths are brought into the light. 

But Brick?!—Skipper is dead! I'm alive!

Related Characters: Margaret (speaker), Brick
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

Pushing her husband to the limit, Maggie demands that he return to her. Rather than mourning the memory of his dead friend, and trying to kill himself by drinking, Maggie believes that Brick should instead focus on her, and begin to live again. 

Although Maggie is a complex character with sometimes impure motivations and a tenuous relationship to the truth, she does unambiguously represent the idea of life within the play. A talkative, dynamic, and unashamedly sexual woman, she enlivens any scene in which she participates, in contrast to her quiet and practically catatonic husband. 

Maggie has also revealed an important truth, one that will be expanded up on as the play continues: in withdrawing from his family, his work, and his wife, Brick has essentially given up on being alive. Maggie is determined to combat this death wish of her husband's and, as we will see over the course of the play, is prepared to use any means necessary to do so. 

Born poor, raised poor, expect to die poor unless I manage to get us something out of what Big Daddy leaves when he dies of cancer!

Related Characters: Margaret (speaker), Brick, Big Daddy
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

As Maggie furiously attempts to make her husband Brick care about his inheritance--which he may lose, due to his alcoholism--she recalls her childhood spent in poverty. As she does, another important facet of Maggie's character becomes clear: her overriding, but understandable, obsession with money.

Although a glamorous woman now used to high society, Maggie grew up with nothing, and with an alcoholic father. By marrying Brick, she has become a part of the moneyed elite, and will do almost anything to ensure that she stays there. Although Brick views Maggie's desperate need to be wealthy with contempt, it is easy for readers and audience members to understand its cause. Unlike Brick, privileged since birth, Maggie understands what it's like to not have enough, and to fight for what you want and need. 

Act 2 Quotes

Oh, but St. Paul's in Grenada has three memorial windows, and the latest one is a Tiffany stained-glass window that cost twenty-five hundred dollars, a picture of Christ the Good Shepherd with his Lamb in his arms.

Related Characters: Reverend Tooker (speaker)
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof points out many instances of hypocrisy, and this quote represents one of the most comic and blatant. As a preacher, Reverend Tooker should be counseling a family that has just learned of their patriarch's fatal illness. Instead, he is excited about the idea that Big Daddy may leave behind money to make his church more flashy and gaudy.

Indeed, Reverend Tooker is not only greedy, but also envious. He covets the riches of another church--"St. Paul's in Grenada"--and even knows how much their "memorial windows" cost. Although he wears the costume of a man of the church, it is obvious that Tooker is just as money-hungry as any other character onstage, and that he hopes to use Big Daddy's death for his own personal gain. 

Jumping the hurdles, Big Daddy, runnin' and jumpin' the hurdles, but those high hurdles have gotten too high for me, now.

Related Characters: Brick (speaker), Big Daddy
Related Symbols: Brick’s Crutch
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:

Demanding and dictatorial, Big Daddy interrupts his own birthday celebration to interrogate Brick, asking his son how he broke his leg. Brick replies that he was attempting to jump the hurdles, as he used to do in high school, but that he's no longer able to.

Throughout Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, characters often wish for past happiness that they have now lost, and this is clearly true in Brick's case. By pretending to be a high schooler again, Brick is reliving when he was in peak physical condition...and returning to a time before he lost his best friend, Skipper. 

Although he seems apathetic and detached, it's clear from Brick's actions that he still deeply longs for a time in his life that has long since past. His inertia stems from his disgust and disappointment with the present, and his desperate desire to return to the happier past. 

And I did, I did so much, I did love you!—I even loved your hate and your hardness, Big Daddy!

[…]

Wouldn't it be funny if that was true…

Related Characters: Big Mama (speaker), Big Daddy (speaker)
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:

After her husband ridicules and insults her repeatedly, Big Mama breaks down. She denies his accusation that she never loved him, instead asserting that she "even loved [his] hate and...hardness." Big Daddy, however, still does not believe her, instead bitterly retorting that her statement would "be funny if that was true."

Although Maggie and Brick may be the most obviously broken couple in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, they are certainly not the only one. The partnership of Big Mama and Big Daddy has clearly soured, with Big Daddy outright declaring his hatred for his wife in front of their entire family.

Just like Brick and Maggie, the two are unable to communicate. Big Mama does not understand the source of her husband's loathing for her, while Big Daddy laughs at the idea that his wife loves him. Their awful marriage makes clear the many ways that human relationships can go wrong, and contributes to a feeling of pessimism about love, sex, and marriage that pervades the play. 

I think the reason he buys everything he can buy is that in the back of his mind he has the crazy hopes that one of his purchases will be life everlasting!—Which it never can be….

Related Characters: Big Daddy (speaker)
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis:

After his close brush with mortality, Big Daddy believes himself to be something of an expert on life and death. Looking around at his expensive, opulent possessions, he reflects that rich men buy as much as they can because they hope that, some day, they will be able to purchase "life everlasting," although their wish will never come true. 

Like Maggie, Big Daddy grew up poor, and has dedicated his life to amassing wealth for himself and his children. In his old age, though, he seems to look back on this desire with regret. Although he can buy anything he wants, he will never be able to regain his health, or his youth. 

This insight is even more poignant considering what the audience/readers know (and Big Daddy does not): he has cancer, and will die very soon. However much characters like Maggie and Mae hunger after money, it cannot provide a remedy to Big Daddy's fatal illness. 

Why are you so anxious to shut me up?

Well, sir, every so often you say to me, Brick, I want to have a talk with you, but when we talk, it never materializes. Nothing is said. […] Communication is—awful hard between people an'—somehow between you and me, it just don't—

Related Characters: Brick (speaker), Big Daddy (speaker)
Page Number: 92
Explanation and Analysis:

As Big Daddy attempts to bond with his son, Brick urges him to be silent instead, explaining that the two of them never actually communicate; they simply talk around each other. Brick finds this process too painful, preferring instead to remain silent.

Repeatedly within the play, Brick displays a distrust in communication, and a desire to push the people around him away. Having lost all faith in his ability to connect with his wife, his family, or his dead friend, he now believes that true communication is no longer possible, and so prefers simply to avoid any attempts at it it. 

Communication is especially hard for two characters like Brick and Big Daddy, who share many of the same fears and beliefs, yet are also worlds away from each other. Big Daddy likes to get things out in the open, while Brick attempts to keep his secrets and traumas hidden. Yet both men, at heart, are pessimistic about other people, and are terrified of the unsaid truths that may overturn their worlds. Given these facts, it is all the more painful when they attempt and yet are unable to communicate. 

I'll smother her in—minks! Ha Ha! I'll strip her naked and smother her in minks and choke her with diamonds and smother her with minks and hump her from hell to breakfast.

Related Characters: Big Daddy (speaker)
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:

Attempting to confide in his son, Big Daddy addresses how alive he feels, since he has been (dishonestly) told that he does not have cancer. To Big Daddy, life and sexuality are always intertwined. As he contemplates his future life, he resolves to take a mistress, and to give her opulent gifts such as "minks" and "diamonds."

This quote gives us a great deal of insight into the character of Big Daddy. A vulgar yet vivid speaker, he narrates how he intends to "smother" and "choke" his mistress with all the gifts he will give her. For Big Daddy, money and affection are one and the same--to give someone expensive presents is, essentially, to show one's love for them.

At the same time, there is a disquieting sense of violence in Big Daddy's words. A man with a great deal of anger and regret, Big Daddy seems to be unknowingly taking out this aggression on his future mistress.

Think of all the lies I got to put up with! Ain't that mendacity? Having to pretend stuff you don't think or feel or have any idea of? Having for instance to act like I care for Big Mama!—I haven't been able to stand the sight, sound, or smell of that woman for forty years now!—even when I laid her!

Related Characters: Big Daddy (speaker), Big Mama
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:

Engaged in a tortuous conversation with his son, Big Daddy learns that Brick has been drinking because of "mendacity," which he defines as "lies and liars." While Brick believes that the mendacity around him has made the world intolerable, Big Daddy has a far different view. He acknowledges that dishonesty is everywhere (pointing to his own marriage as an example), but asserts that one must learn to live with and accept mendacity rather than retreating from life, as Brick has done.

Although Brick and Big Daddy have huge differences between them, this conversation makes clear their similarities. Like Brick, Big Daddy believes himself to be surrounded by dishonesty. Also like Brick, Big Daddy views his marriage as a sham, and feels nothing but hatred and disgust for the woman whom he married. The two characters differ, therefore, not in their belief that dishonesty and deception are all around them, but in their response to that belief. 

A drinking man's someone who wants to forget he isn't still young an' believing.

Related Characters: Brick (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Console/Liquor Cabinet/Hi-Fi
Page Number: 114
Explanation and Analysis:

Asked by his father why he drinks, Brick replies that he wants to forget his youth, when he was still innocent and "believing." Brick's desperate desire for the past is one of his strongest drives. He views this time as perfect, and is deeply bitter at having lost it.

This quote fits into the overall theme of Brick's pessimism. Repeatedly, he expresses disgust with his situation, his environment, his family, and himself. It seems that nothing will ever be good enough for Brick, since he is constantly convinced that things used to be better in the now-lost past—and he cannot truly communicate with anyone in the present because of this self-imposed barrier. 

Sit in a glass box watching games I can't play? Describing what I can't do while players do it? Sweating out their disgust and confusion in contests I'm not fit for? Drinkin' a coke, half bourbon, so I can stand it?

Related Characters: Brick (speaker)
Page Number: 115
Explanation and Analysis:

Attempting to understand what would make his son happy, Big Daddy suggests that Brick return to sports announcing. Brick, however, rejects the idea, saying that he doesn't want to watch and comment upon a game that he can no longer play, and blames sports announcing in part for his alcoholism. 

As is clear from this passage, Brick's self-loathing runs deep. His time playing football represents, for him, the best period of his life, when he was happy and innocent, and had both Maggie and Skipper at his side. By contrast, sports announcing is, to Brick, simply empty talk. To take the job would be to participate in the system of dishonesty that he hates, while watching the game that he can no longer play only reminds him of all that he feels he's lost. 

Maybe that's why you put Maggie and me in this room that was Jack Straw's and Peter Ochello's, in which that pair of old sisters slept in a double bed where both of 'em died!

Related Characters: Brick (speaker), Margaret, Big Daddy
Related Symbols: The Bed
Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:

Furious after Big Daddy suggests that Brick and Skipper may have been gay, Brick references Jack Straw and Peter Ochello, the (semi-openly gay) couple who owned the plantation before Big Daddy did. He seems to view the two with contempt, and accuses Big Daddy of putting him and Maggie in that room in order to imply that Brick himself is gay. 

Although Jack Straw and Peter Ochello seem to have been a committed and loving couple, whom Big Daddy remembers with fondness, Brick has nothing but disgust for the two men. This violent reaction can be read one of two ways: either Brick deeply resents that everyone around him thinks that he is gay, or he actually is gay and has reacted so dramatically out of repression and self-loathing. 

Brick's sexuality remains ambiguous throughout the play, but it is clear from passages like this one that he finds homosexuality deeply disturbing, and has none of the (surprising) tolerance that his father displays. 

Why, at Ole Miss when it was discovered a pledge to our fraternity, Skipper's and mine, did a, attempted to do a, unnatural thing with—We not only dropped him like a hot rock—We told him to git off the campus, and he did, he got!—

Related Characters: Brick (speaker)
Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:

Enraged that his father has implied that he and Skipper might have had a romantic relationship, Brick engages on a homophobic rant. He explains that when he was in college, his fraternity suspected another student of homosexuality, and eventually threw the pledge off of campus.

In offering this example, Brick thinks that he has proven that he is not gay. In fact, however, he has merely illustrated how ingrained and pervasive societal homophobia was in the 1950s. Whether or not Brick is gay, witnessing this situation in his fraternity only reinforced his belief that homosexuality is wrong and dirty. 

If Brick is in fact gay, this incident helps the audience/readers to understand his deep self-hatred and denial. And even if he is not gay, his homophobia here provides us with insight into his treatment of Skipper. Although his friend was in love with him, Brick is unable to accept or process that fact. For someone as good and pure as Skipper to engage in something as "dirty" as homosexuality is, for Brick, too awful and inconceivable to believe. 

No!—It was too rare to be normal, any true thing between two people is too rare to be normal.

Related Characters: Brick (speaker)
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:

When Big Daddy raises the issue of Skipper, Brick immediately grows angry, convinced that his father is implying that there was something dirty or wrong about his friendship. Big Daddy counters that two men loving each other as friends is "normal." Brick, however, rejects this interpretation as well, asserting that anything that is "true...between two people is too rare to be normal."

This quote reveals the extent to which Brick has placed Skipper on a pedestal, and his pessimism about human relationships. Although Brick may be in denial, it is undoubtedly true that is friend was in love with him--a far cry from the pure, platonic relationship that Brick insists existed between them. 

At the same time, Brick has become convinced that no relationship in his life will ever equal what he had with Skipper. To him, all other human bonds--including those with his wife and his father--are false and deceitful, based on base desires and manipulation rather than true love and respect. 

You been passing the buck. This disgust with mendacity is disgust with yourself. You!—you dug the grave of your friend and kicked him in it!—before you'd face the truth with him!

Related Characters: Big Daddy (speaker), Brick
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:

Brick explains to Big Daddy that he drinks because of his disgust with mendacity ("lies and liars"), and at last admits that he received a drunken confession of love from Skipper, and rebuffed it completely, hanging up on his friend's telephone call. Big Daddy seizes on this fact, asserting that Brick is in fact disgusted with his own mendacity, in refusing to entertain or address the truth that his friend told him. In fact, Big Daddy even goes so far as to assert that Brick's coldness and denial are the reasons for Skipper's death.

With this accusation, Big Daddy turns Brick's carefully constructed world upside down. He has lived in a bubble of denial, blaming Maggie for Skipper's death, and refusing to believe that he had any part of it. In fact, he even blames Maggie for Skipper's confession of love, which he views as dirty and shameful. Big Daddy, however, states that it was Brick's actions that were shameful, since he refused to "face the truth" behind Skipper's words.

This quote also shows the remarkably open nature of Big Daddy. During a period in which most people thought that homosexuality was immoral, and even a mental illness, Big Daddy seems at least willing to accept that his son's friend was in love with him (and even that Brick may have been in love with Skipper).

Maybe it's being alive that makes them lie, and being almost not alive makes me sort of accidentally truthful…

Related Characters: Brick (speaker)
Page Number: 130
Explanation and Analysis:

Furious past endurance, Brick blurts out the truth to Big Daddy: his father has terminal cancer, and is going to die soon. Almost immediately, he regrets his decision, telling Big Daddy that only those who are alive can lie. Since Brick himself exists within an in-between place, he sometimes finds himself being "accidentally truthful."

Although drunk and regretful, Brick has uttered a crucial statement: that "being alive" has something to do with lying. Brick--who no longer wants to be alive--and the dying Big Daddy have just concluded one of the most honest exchanges in the play. Their bluntness contrasts with the subtle and sometimes dishonest Maggie, who may sometimes lie, but is uniquely and utterly alive. 

To Brick, lying is an unavoidable symptom of being alive. Whether or not lying to Big Daddy was the kind thing to do, Brick has found himself unable to sustain it, due to his own desire for both honesty and, ultimately, death. 

Act 3 Quotes

Tonight Brick looks like he used to look when he was a little boy, just like he did when he played wild games and used to come home all sweaty and pink-cheeked and sleepy, with his—red curls shining….

Related Characters: Big Mama (speaker), Brick
Page Number: 161
Explanation and Analysis:

Deeply distraught after finding out that her husband is dying, Big Mama rejects her son Gooper, and turns all her attention and affection towards Brick. She states that Brick looks like he did "when he was a little boy," reminiscing about his childhood.

Just like her son, Big Mama has romanticized the past, turning it into a perfect memory to which the sordid present can never compare. She remembers Brick as a perfect child, handsome, energetic, and cheerful. Her fond memory contrasts with her son's current state, steeped in alcohol and almost suicidally depressed. 

Yet so strong are Big Mama's powers of delusion that she can imagine that the current dissipated Brick actually looks like his perfect former self. Although this ability to lie to herself may make Big Mama seem foolish and pathetic, it is also a strength, allowing her to survive Big Daddy's abuse and her family's terrible dysfunction. 

Brick, I used to think that you were stronger than me and I didn’t want to be overpowered by you. But now, since you’ve taken to liquor—you know what? –I guess it’s bad, but now I’m stronger than you and I can love you more truly!

Related Characters: Margaret (speaker), Brick
Related Symbols: The Console/Liquor Cabinet/Hi-Fi
Page Number: 172
Explanation and Analysis:

Alone with Brick, Maggie reveals that she's found an upside to his drinking: she is now "stronger" than him, and, because of that, can "love you more truly." 

With one quote, Maggie reveals both the darkness and the light within her character. On one hand, she feels that she can love Brick more "truly" now that he is weak and and drunk--a disturbing insight into her need for control, and her manipulation of Brick. On the other hand, this quote also speaks to Maggie's eternal optimism. Although her husband is nearly incoherently drunk at this point, she remains devoted to him, and finds things to love about him. 

Also on display here is Maggie's faithful, relentless love. Throughout the entire play she has remained laser-focused on Brick, at every moment calculating how she can get through to her husband, and this passage is no different. 

And so tonight we're going to make the lie true, and when that's done, I'll bring the liquor back here and we'll get drunk together, here, tonight, in this place that death has come into….

Related Characters: Margaret (speaker), Brick
Related Symbols: The Bed, The Console/Liquor Cabinet/Hi-Fi
Page Number: 173
Explanation and Analysis:

Having announced to the family that she is pregnant, Maggie now admits to Brick that she has lied. Still, she asserts, they can "make the lie true" by sleeping together; and to sweeten the deal, she promises to bring him more alcohol afterwards. 

Once again, both the best and the worst parts of Maggie's character come through in this moment. She intends to sleep with her deeply intoxicated husband, and is using his alcoholism to make her offer more appealing. Furthermore, she has lied to a dying man, with absolutely no assurance that her lie (her pregnancy) will come true.

At the same time, it is difficult not to admire Maggie in this moment. Although she has lied, her lie has helped to drive "death" out of the house, replacing it with at least a semblance of joy and life. She also truly believes that resuming their sex life, and conceiving a child, will help to redeem her depressed husband--a belief that may be deluded, but is also deeply understandable. 

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