Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

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Difficulty of Communication Theme Analysis

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.
Difficulty of Communication Theme Icon

Big Daddy and Brick also discuss how difficult it is to communicate with others and especially with each other. Although they both speak, nothing seems to get through. As the play progresses, we see that this is true for all the characters. In the stage directions, they’re constantly overlapping each other’s words, interrupting, and ignoring others. The difficulty of communication is even evident in how long it takes to get everyone to organize around Big Mama in order to tell her about the truth of Big Daddy’s cancer. Brick’s alcoholism also plays a big role—first, he’s focused on drinking until he can hear the “click,” and then once he hears it, he becomes even more detached and removed from the conversations around him.

Difficulty of Communication ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Difficulty of Communication 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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Difficulty of Communication 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 Difficulty of Communication.
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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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. 

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. 

Act 2 Quotes

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. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

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.