Cat On A Hot Tin Roof: Metaphor Analysis
There are two visual symbols present on the stage throughout. The first is the big double bed. Williams wrote in his note for the designer that staging should make the bed "a functional part of the set as often as suitable, the surface of which should be slightly raked to make figures on it seen more easily" (p. 16). The bed shows the centrality of sex and sexual relationships in the play. In Act 1, Big Mama points directly at it when she says, "When a marriage goes on the rocks, the rocks are there, right there!" (p. 49).
The second visual symbol is what Williams called the "monumental monstrosity peculiar to our times, a huge console combination of radio-phonograph (hi-fi with three speakers), TV set and liquor cabinet." He describes this as "a very complete and compact little shrine to virtually all the comforts and illusions behind which we hide from such things as the characters in the play are faced with." In other words, people use television and alcohol to avoid intimacy with each other. These "comforts" ensure that people have an excuse not to communicate with each other.
The console was a gift to Big Mama and Big Daddy from Mae and Gooper. It attracts attention several times in the play. When Brick turns the television on, Big Mama says she hates it. She is the one who likes to communicate with her family, and the TV interferes with this. Big Daddy's comment at the beginning of Act 2 about wanting the hi-fi on again so he won't have to listen to Big Mama's voice is a truth disguised as a joke. And of course, Brick makes frequent trips to the liquor cabinet so that he can continue living in his detached, alcoholic haze.
A third visual symbol is Brick's crutch. It symbolizes his general weakness, his inability to be whole, to be a complete man, despite his gifts as an athlete and his good looks. Several times in the play he drops his crutch, uses it as a weapon (thus disabling himself), or has it snatched away from him. These antics suggest his mental as well as his physical instability, and hammer home the point that he must address the situation before it becomes critical.
Maggie compares herself to a cat because like a cat she can survive in tricky circumstances-staying on a hot tin roof for example-and come out of them unscathed. She also has a "catty" (malicious or sly) sense of humor, which Mae brings attention to in Act 1. Maggie's bitter rival Mae is also likened to a cat; the similarity between the two women is noted by Big Daddy: "they got the same look about them," and they are both "nervous as cats" (p. 81). In the final Act, Mae hisses-like a cat-at Maggie after Maggie claims to be pregnant.