Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
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"Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" Summary

By Tennessee Williams

plays | 208 pages | Published in NaN

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof first heated up Broadway in 1955 with its gothic American story of brothers vying for their dying father’s inheritance amid a whirlwind of sexuality, untethered in the person of Maggie the Cat. The play also daringly showcased the burden of sexuality repressed in the agony of her husband, Brick Pollitt. In spite of the public controversy Cat stirred up, it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the Drama Critics Circle Award for that year. Williams, as he so often did with his plays, rewrote Cat on a Hot Tin Roof for many years—the present version was originally produced at the American Shakespeare Festival in 1974 with all the changes that made Williams finally declare the text to be definitive, and was most recently produced on Broadway in the 2003–2004 season. This definitive edition also includes Williams&rsquoi; essay “Person-to-Person,” Williams’ notes on the various endings, and a short chronology of the author’s life. One of America’s greatest living playwrights, as well as a friend and colleague of Williams, Edward Albee has written a concise introduction to the play from a playwright’s perspective, examining the candor, sensuality, power, and impact of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof then and now.


Estimated read time: 5 min read

One Sentence Summary

A dysfunctional Southern family grapples with secrets, lies, and the looming specter of death in a sweltering Mississippi Delta plantation.


"Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" is a renowned play by Tennessee Williams that delves into the complexities of human relationships, societal expectations, and the struggle for personal fulfillment. Set in the 1950s, the play offers a poignant portrayal of a wealthy Southern family grappling with a web of lies, emotional turmoil, and the pursuit of inheritance. As the characters navigate their personal demons, the audience is invited to explore themes of truth, mendacity, and the fragile nature of human connections.

Brief Synopsis

Plot Overview and Setting

The play unfolds in a plantation home in the Mississippi Delta, owned by the Pollitt family. The patriarch, Big Daddy, is celebrating his 65th birthday, and the entire family has gathered for the occasion. The family's interactions are fraught with tension, deceit, and unspoken desires. The setting of the play provides a backdrop of opulence, while simultaneously shrouding underlying conflicts and emotional distress.

Main Characters

BrickFormer football hero, struggling with alcoholism
MaggieBrick's wife, tenacious and determined
Big DaddyPatriarch of the family, battling terminal illness
Big MamaBig Daddy's wife, devoted but unaware of his illness
GooperBig Daddy's oldest son, vying for inheritance
MaeGooper's wife, conniving and manipulative

Summary of Different Story Points Over Chapters

Act 1

The play opens with the family's gathering to celebrate Big Daddy's birthday. Conversations reveal tensions between Brick and his wife, Maggie, as well as the strained relationship between Big Daddy and his other son, Gooper. The audience also learns about Brick's troubled past and his strained friendship with his deceased friend, Skipper. Maggie desperately seeks to secure her position in the family amidst the looming inheritance.

Act 2

The second act delves deeper into the characters' emotional turmoil. Brick's alcoholism and emotional detachment become more pronounced, while Maggie's determination to win over Brick's affections intensifies. The family's dynamics are further strained as Gooper and Mae relentlessly pursue their claims to the family estate. Big Daddy's health takes center stage as the truth about his terminal illness is revealed.

Act 3

In the final act, the simmering tensions within the family erupt into a series of confrontations and revelations. Brick and Big Daddy engage in a heart-wrenching conversation, exposing long-held truths and unspoken feelings. The play culminates in a moment of emotional reckoning for the characters, as they grapple with their desires, regrets, and the impending loss of Big Daddy.

Main Events

  1. Big Daddy's birthday celebration sets the stage for the family's gathering, unveiling underlying conflicts and desires.
  2. Brick's struggles with alcoholism and his strained relationship with Maggie come to the forefront.
  3. The revelation of Big Daddy's terminal illness sends shockwaves through the family, exposing their unresolved issues and unmet expectations.
  4. Confrontations and emotional revelations in the final act bring the characters to a point of reckoning, forcing them to confront their truths and desires.

Themes and Insights

Truth and Mendacity

The play delves into the contrast between truth and lies, highlighting the characters' struggles with honesty and deception. The theme of mendacity runs throughout the narrative, underscoring the characters' attempts to conceal their true feelings and motivations.

Family and Inheritance

The complexities of familial relationships and the pursuit of inheritance form a central theme in the play. The characters' relentless pursuit of the family estate reflects their underlying desires for validation, security, and power.

Personal Fulfillment and Despair

The characters' individual quests for fulfillment and the despair that accompanies unfulfilled desires are intricately woven into the narrative. Brick's struggle with his past, Maggie's yearning for affection, and Big Daddy's confrontation with mortality offer profound insights into the human condition.

Reader's Takeaway

"Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" offers readers a compelling exploration of human relationships, emotional turmoil, and the fragility of truth. Through its richly developed characters and poignant dialogue, the play prompts readers to reflect on the complexities of love, family, and the pursuit of authenticity. The themes of truth, family dynamics, and personal fulfillment resonate deeply, leaving a lasting impression on those who engage with the narrative.


Tennessee Williams' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" presents a timeless portrayal of human vulnerability, societal expectations, and the relentless pursuit of authenticity. Set against the backdrop of a wealthy Southern family's gathering, the play unravels the intricacies of familial relationships, personal struggles, and the delicate balance between truth and deceit. As readers delve into the lives of the Pollitt family, they are confronted with profound insights into the human experience, leaving them with a deeper understanding of the complexities of love, longing, and the pursuit of personal fulfillment.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof FAQ

  1. What is the main plot of 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof'?

    The main plot of 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' revolves around the troubled relationships within the Pollitt family as they gather at the Mississippi plantation to celebrate the birthday of patriarch Big Daddy. The play explores themes of love, mendacity, and the struggle for power.

  2. Who are the main characters in 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof'?

    The main characters in 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' include Brick and Maggie, a married couple; Big Daddy and Big Mama, Brick's parents; and Gooper and Mae, Brick's brother and sister-in-law. Each character plays a significant role in the family dynamics and the unfolding drama.

  3. What are the major themes of 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof'?

    Major themes in 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' include the search for truth and meaning in a world of lies and deception, the complexities of human relationships, the impact of alcoholism and repression, and the struggle for inheritance and power.

  4. Is 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' based on a true story?

    No, 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' is a work of fiction by Tennessee Williams. While the characters and situations may draw on real-life experiences and emotions, the play itself is not based on a specific true story.

  5. What is the significance of the title 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof'?

    The title 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' is a metaphor for the characters' struggles and discomfort, particularly the feeling of being on edge and in a precarious position. It reflects the tension and heat that permeate the play, as well as the characters' desperation and vulnerability.