Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

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Unrequited Love and Sexuality 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.
Unrequited Love and Sexuality Theme Icon

The unrequited love in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof centers on the male characters, especially Brick and Big Daddy. Brick is the object of unrequited love for his wife Margaret, his friend Skipper, and his parents Big Daddy and Big Mama. Their energies—sometimes sexual, sometimes protective—propel most of the confrontations in the play, as they bounce off the cold, distant character of Brick. There are other instances of unrequited love as well, such as Big Mama’s love for Big Daddy, and the tension between Mae and Gooper, which hints at possible marital strife beneath their façade. This is summed up in the repeated line at the end of the play, the parallel between Big Daddy and Brick when their women—cats on a hot tin roof, desperate to be understood and to have their love returned—tell Big Daddy and Brick that they love them. Both men, untouchable, respond under their breath to themselves, say, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that were true?” Neither of them men can conceive of their wives loving them.

Sex and sexuality also play a big role in the play, as Brick struggles with both his own possible homosexuality and his real homophobia, believing that accusations of homosexuality tainted the purity of his friendship with Skipper. Brick’s alcoholism arises from an inner struggle with his own sexual feelings for Skipper, guilt at his role in Skipper’s death by ignoring Skipper’s feelings for him, or both, but Williams allows this to remain ambiguous. In any case, it’s clear that Brick’s views reflect those of a homophobic culture and that he can’t stomach homosexual feelings in either himself or his best friend Skipper, calling it an "inadmissible thing". Big Daddy also discusses sex in the play, saying that what he most wants to do is experience "pleasure with women". He doesn't want love, doesn't even seem to believe in love. He wants only pleasure. Finally, Margaret, the play’s self-proclaimed cat on a hot tin roof, desires Brick and grows desperate for his attention, which turns her catty and aggressive. Despite this aggression, her sheer desperation and will to achieve what she wants make her an alluring yet heartbreaking protagonist of the play, as she finally stoops to threatening Brick and bartering alcohol for sex.

Unrequited Love and Sexuality ThemeTracker

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

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. 

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. 

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).

Act 3 Quotes

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.