Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

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Memory, Nostalgia, Regret 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.
Memory, Nostalgia, Regret Theme Icon

The happiest moments in the play are the moments that exist in the past, as the characters recall their prior existences. Both Margaret and Brick reference the beginning of their marriage as a happy time, for example, though their present reality proves to be anything but happy. Brick also drinks because he can’t let go of his relationship with Skipper—and his role in Skipper’s decline and death. Brick also speaks about how people like to do the things they used to do, even after they’ve stopped being able to do them—hence, his accident on the high school track field trying to jump hurdles. Similarly, Big Daddy speaks about pursuing women and regrets the fact that he didn’t pursue more women in his youth, instead expending his sexual energy on Big Mama.

Additionally, Big Daddy and Big Mama’s desire for grandchildren from Brick stem from a desire to preserve Big Daddy—they believe that Brick, more than Gooper, is Big Daddy’s son and image, and a grandson fathered by Brick would represent a kind of immortality for Big Daddy and the masculine family line.

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Memory, Nostalgia, Regret ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Memory, Nostalgia, Regret 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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Memory, Nostalgia, Regret 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 Memory, Nostalgia, Regret.
Act 1 Quotes

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. 


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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. 

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. 

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.

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.