Cat On A Hot Tin Roof: Novel Summary: Act 1 Part 2
Mae enters, carrying a young lady's archery set. Maggie recognizes it as a trophy she won at an intercollegiate archery contest. Mae says it is dangerous to leave it lying around the house when there are children around, and asks Maggie to lock it up. Maggie puts it in the closet. Mae then talks about what has been going on downstairs after supper. The kids played musical instruments and two of them danced in fairy costume. Maggie makes a sarcastic remark about the names of Mae's children (Dixie, Trixie, Buster, Sonny, Polly), saying they sound like four dogs and a parrot. Mae asks her sister why she is so catty, and explains the real names of her children. Then Gooper calls her and she leaves the room.
Maggie says she will put out Brick's silk suit and silk shirt, but he refuses to put them on. Instead, he agrees to wear white silk pajamas. She pleads with him to end the punishment he is inflicting on her (by not showing affection and refusing to make love to her), but Brick's reply is unsympathetic. He tells her to take a lover, but she replies that she is only interested in him.
Maggie locks the door and closes the curtains and pleads with him to relent. She yells that she cannot accept the condition he imposed. She seizes his shoulder, but he breaks away from her, takes hold of a chair and brandishes it like a lion-tamer. She breaks into hysterical laughter, and he grins and puts the chair down.
Big Mama enters, and Brick retreats to the bathroom. She says she has wonderful news about Big Daddy. Maggie starts to complain about the children again, but Big Mama dismisses her, saying she just doesn't like children.
Then Big Mama explains that the lab report on Big Daddy's condition is negative. There is nothing wrong with him except a spastic colon. She is elated by this news (which Maggie knows to be incorrect). She tells Maggie to get dressed because, since Brick has an injured ankle, they are all coming up to the room for the birthday party.
Big Mama goes into the hall to take a phone call from Miss Sally, Big Daddy's sister. She explains the news about Big Daddy but cannot hear well because Miss Sally is calling from a noisy hotel lobby. Maggie takes the phone and tells Miss Sally again about the news of the lab report.
Big Mama asks Maggie whether Brick has been drinking. Maggie gives an evasive answer, and Big Mama implies that Brick never drank until he got married. Maggie interrupts her, saying that her comment is not fair. Big Mama then asks Maggie whether she makes Brick happy in bed. Maggie replies by asking why her mother-in-law doesn't ask the question the other way round, since it works both ways. Big Mama says that when a marriage goes wrong, the cause is there-and she points at the bed.
After Big Mama exits, Brick comes out of the bathroom and goes straight for the liquor cabinet. Maggie says she is confident their sex life will return, and she is keeping herself attractive in anticipation of it. She stands in front of a mirror and admires her body, telling Brick that other men are still attracted to her. At a party the best-looking man in the room followed her upstairs and tried to force his way into the powder room. Brick reacts indifferently to this piece of information, saying he would not have minded had she let the man in. Maggie replies that she is not going to give him any grounds for divorce, but Brick says he would not divorce her for being unfaithful; on the contrary, he would be relieved that she had found a lover. He says she could leave him, but Maggie says she does not want to. She adds that Brick would not be able to pay for a divorce anyway, and reminds him that Big Daddy is dying of cancer. Brick for the first time seems aware of this, but points out that Big Mama told them that Big Daddy was not dying. Maggie explains that Big Mama and Big Daddy were both given the same story, but tonight Big Mama will be told that the cancer is malignant and terminal. Today is Big Daddy's last birthday, and Mae and Gooper are both aware of it, which is why they rushed down the plantation to visit. They know that Big Daddy has not made a will, so they are out to impress on him the fact that Brick drinks and Maggie has borne no children.
It is a paradox that in this house where there are secrets, and people do not tell the truth, there is also a lack of privacy. People eavesdrop on the conversations of others. This will become more apparent later on, but it is clear when Maggie says, "HUSH! Who is out there? Is somebody at the door?" (p 36), that she is used to such intrusions.
In this scene there are two interruptions to Maggie's attempts to get through to Brick. The first is by Mae, who does not lose a minute to get in a dig at Maggie for her childlessness. There is no love lost between these two women. Mae, pregnant with her sixth child, represents fertility, while Maggie represents an enforced chastity-as the ironic allusion to the "Diana Trophy" she won at archery suggests, since in classical mythology, Diana is the virgin huntress. Diana often has to fight off suitors to retain her virginity, whereas Maggie does the opposite: she fights to get Brick to end her unwanted state of celibacy.
Maggie uses the language of imprisonment to describe her condition. "We occupy the same cage" she says to Brick, and later she says has she served enough time, and wants to apply for a pardon. It is torture for her to be yoked to a husband who denies her affection and love. She is reduced to pointing out how attractive her body is to other men, hoping that will arouse some desire in him. But Brick continues his cruelly indifferent behavior.
In this section also, Maggie returns to the metaphor of the cat, in reference to herself, which she first mentioned in the previous section.
This is the first appearance of Big Mama, who makes the second interruption to the dialogue between Maggie and Brick. Big Mama is like Maggie in that-as we shall see in Act 2-she is married to a man who does not value or even recognize her love for him. But this does not create a bond between Big Mama and Maggie, because Big Mama sees the relationship between Maggie and Brick only through the eyes of her son. She blames Maggie for Brick's drinking and implies it is Maggie's fault if the couple does not have a satisfactory sex life. This makes Maggie feel totally alone.
Big Mama's words to Maggie about Big Daddy's illness, that it is only a "spastic colon," not cancer, is an example of dramatic irony, since the audience, earlier informed by Maggie, knows that he does have cancer. This is also another example of how in this household, the truth is not told, because it is too painful. Even Maggie is drawn into the lie, when she is forced to tell Miss Sally on the telephone that Big Daddy does not have a serious illness.