Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

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Themes and Colors
Lies Theme Icon
Unrequited Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Difficulty of Communication Theme Icon
Memory, Nostalgia, Regret Theme Icon
Wealth Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Death Theme Icon

Homosexuality is one of the two things that Brick calls an "inadmissible thing". The other is death, and it is explored primarily through the character of Big Daddy. Big Daddy believes that men, particularly wealthy men, have a single overriding goal, which is to not die. He believes that every purchase wealthy men make as being a sort of hopeful but doomed-to-fail effort to buy more life. After getting the positive health report, he seems determined to live to his definition of the fullest: one again ruling his plantation and family as he sees fit and chasing women and sexual pleasure. But when he learns that he does in fact have cancer, all of his assurance, strength, and power disappear. He rushes off in grief and impotent rage, and is not seen again in the play. Only his howls of anguish are heard. For all his wealth and former power, Big Daddy can't face death.

Big Mama seems to believe that Big Daddy will find some solace in the news that Maggie is pregnant, that Big Daddy will find a sense of immortality in the son of his own favored son. It is implied that Big Daddy's howls of rage and sorrow are in response to Big Mama's "happy" news, suggesting that Big Daddy sees only one sort of immortality as worthwhile: his own. He doesn't want to live on through others. He wants to live. And neither he, nor anyone else, can.

Death ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Death appears in each act of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
How often theme appears:
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Death Quotes in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Below you will find the important quotes in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof related to the theme of Death.
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. 

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. 

Act 2 Quotes

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. 

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. 

Act 3 Quotes

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.