Cat On A Hot Tin Roof: Novel Summary: Act 2 Part 3
Brick walks toward the gallery but Big Daddy pulls his crutch from under him so that Brick is forced to take a step with his injured ankle. He cries out in pain and asks his father to give him his crutch back, but Big Daddy throws it out of reach. Big Daddy then insists that Brick tell him why he drinks. Eventually Brick replies with one word: disgust. Big Daddy asks him what he is disgusted with. They strike a bargain that if Big Daddy gives Brick a drink, he will answer the question. Brick says he is disgusted with all the mendacity (lying) that goes on around him.
Big Daddy replies he could write a book about mendacity. He has many lies he has to put up with, such as pretending that he cares for his wife, for Gooper and Mae and their children, when he cannot stand the sight of any of them. But he says he likes and respects Brick, and his life had been devoted to making him a success as a planter. He tells Brick to live with mendacity, since there is no other choice. Brick replies that there is a choice-he can live with liquor.
Big Daddy confesses that he had been thinking about who he should leave his property to. He could not make up his mind, since he hated Mae and Gooper but he also did not want to leave his property to a drunk. Now, he says, he doesn't have to make an immediate decision, since he does not have cancer. He will wait and see if Brick pulls himself together.
Brick says he does not care, and he tries to leave, but his father prevents him. There is something more tender in his manner. He probes his son further, to find out what would stop Brick feeling disgust. He suggests that his son go back to being a sports announcer, but Brick does not want to do that. He is too conscious of the fact that he is no longer able to play football.
Still probing, Big Daddy mentions that Brick started drinking when Skipper died. He says that according to Mae and Gooper, there was something not normal about Brick's relationship with Skipper. Over Brick's protests, Big Daddy explains that he has seen a lot of life. He understands that the former owners of the plantation, Jack Straw and Peter Ochello, were homosexuals. When Straw died, Ochello stopped eating. Big After Brick exclaims vehemently that he has not stopped eating, Daddy points out that he did start drinking. Brick is angry and accuses his father of thinking that he and Skipper had a sexual relationship. He is shouting, and Big Daddy tries to calm him down. Brick is shocked that his father is talking so casually about something that arouses most people's disgust. Big Daddy replies that he is not easily shocked.
Brick protests. He says that he and Skipper had an exceptional friendship. That was what was not normal about it-it was pure and true. Big Daddy insists on probing further about why Skipper cracked up, and why Brick has too.
Brick responds by telling the story of his past, as he understands it. He married Maggie one summer because she insisted that it was then or never. At first they had a wonderful time as Maggie went on the road with the Dixie Stars. But Skipper got a fever, and Brick injured himself. Then when Maggie was sitting on the bench with Skipper during a football game, she told him that he and Brick were frustrated homosexuals. Skipper went to bed with Maggie to prove this was not true, but when he failed, he believed what she had told him-and that was what destroyed him.
Big Daddy says that something has been left out of the story. Brick admits that Skipper made a telephone call to him, in which he confessed his feelings for him. Brick hung up the phone. It was the last time they ever spoke to each other.
Big Daddy tells Brick that his disgust with mendacity is really disgust with himself because he was unable to face the truth with his friend.
Then Brick does his own piece of truth-telling by alluding to the wish for "many happy returns of the day" that Big Daddy is receiving from everyone on his birthday. He says that everyone except Big Daddy knows there won't be any happy returns. The truth begins to sink into Big Daddy, and he insists that Brick finish what he was saying. He asks whether they have all been lying about the hospital report. Brick says that there are only two ways out of the mendacity they all live in: liquor and death. Then he apologizes for what he said, but insists that friends must tell each other the truth. Big Daddy told him the truth, so Brick returned the compliment.
With great feeling, and revulsion, Big Daddy says several times that they are all liars. He goes out.
This part of the scene is the dramatic climax of the play. The truth about Big Daddy's approaching death and the homosexuality that destroyed Brick's relationship with Skipper finally comes out.
The dialogue between father and son reveals the difference between their attitudes. Big Daddy is a realist who has learned to accept the fact that living in human society demands some compromises. He goes to church, for example, even though it bores him to death; he joins clubs like the Elks and the Rotary, even though he does not like them. They are just part of the web of obligations that he is a part of. Pretending to have affection for his wife and for his elder son ("that son of a bitch") and his grandchildren is part of the same set of social and familial obligations. Big Daddy does not like this mendacity, but he accepts that it has been necessary, although he now longs to be free of it. He also values the fact that he can at least tell the truth to his favorite son.
Brick, on the other hand, has not learned to accept that life does not measure up to his ideals. Having lost his career and his best friend, he can no longer find meaning in life. He is disillusioned and retreats into himself, with alcohol as his crutch. He also feels guilty that he could not respond in some way to Skipper's homosexual confession. As Big Daddy helps him to realize, at least part of his disgust is with himself. After all, his rejection of his friend's confession, his refusal to face the truth, led directly to Skipper's death. Tennessee Williams suggests in his note (p. 116) that Brick's disgust with mendacity may be traceable to the fact that the homosexual element in his friendship with Skipper could not be acknowledged: "it had to be disavowed to 'keep face' in the world they lived in." But Williams also suggests that this may only be a partial explanation. Clearly, Brick is also disgusted because what he regarded as a pure friendship was seen by others as something else. He appears not to accept that Skipper was homosexual, and blames Maggie for putting that idea into Skipper's head.
Whatever the truth is regarding Brick's response to his friend's homosexuality, a more general truth about Brick's nature emerges in this scene. He does not have the mental strength to overcome setbacks. In that respect he is unlike his resilient father and his feisty wife Maggie. Unlike them, he gives up when he should be willing to fight.