Cat On A Hot Tin Roof: Novel Summary: Act 3 Part 1
The family tries to get Big Mama to attend the talk with Dr. Baugh, when he will tell her the truth about Big Daddy. Everyone knows the truth now except her. Big Mama has no idea of what is about to happen. She boasts about how healthy Big Daddy's appetite was at supper, and believes this was because he was relieved after learning that there was nothing wrong with him. Maggie says she will go and get Brick, so they can all talk. Big Mama starts to get worried, and says she doesn't know what the mysterious family conference is about. But she sees that everyone has a long face.
There is a buzz of conversation. Then Mae says she has a funny feeling that Brick said something to Big Daddy that he should not have done. Big Mama is mystified by this, and Gooper appears about to tell her something, but Mae quickly intervenes to prevent him.
Brick enters, behind Big Mama. She is unaware of him, and starts talking about how Skipper died. Then she turns and sees him. Brick goes to prepare a drink, while his mother says she wishes he wouldn't; he is breaking her heart.
Mae sits beside Big Mama, while Gooper sits facing her; Reverend Tooker, Dr. Baugh and Maggie are also close, while Brick hobbles to the gallery door. Big Mama wonders why they are all surrounding her. Gooper and Mae tell the doctor that Big Mama wants to know the complete truth about the report from the clinic. Big Mama is terrified, realizing that there may be something she does not know, but she retains her dignity. She says she must know. Dr. Baugh explains that they did some tests on tissue removed from a growth and it tested positive. Big Mama utters the word cancer, and the doctor nods gravely. She gives a gasp and a cry. Dr. Baugh continues, with some help from Mae and Gooper, and explains that the cancer was too advanced for surgery to be of any help.
Big Mama rises from the couch and says she wants Brick; she wants to hear it from Brick. She calls him her only son, which offends Gooper. Mae reminds Big Mama that Gooper is her first-born son, but she replies that he never liked his father.
Big Mama refuses to face the truth; she says it is just a bad dream. Dr. Baugh says that they will keep Big Daddy as comfortable as they can, and Gooper adds that they think Big Daddy ought to be started on morphine, since they believe he is in pain but doesn't want to admit it. Big Mama says no one is going to give her husband morphine, but the doctor tells her that when the pain hits, he will need it. He says he will leave the equipment with them so they won't have to send out for it. He exits, while Big Mama still refuses to believe the truth.
Maggie and Mae start to squabble, as Mae alludes to Maggie's father's drinking problem, as well as to Brick's. Maggie denies he has a drinking problem, but Big Mama contradicts her and says they must get Brick straightened out because otherwise it will break Big Daddy's heart. She also seems to hint that Brick will inherit the plantation, which alarms Mae and Gooper.
Gooper tries to explain that he has always loved Big Daddy. Mae points out that since Gooper is eight years older than Brick he has had to carry more responsibility. Big Mama contradicts this assertion, saying that Gooper only ever had to help Big Daddy with a few business details. Mae denies this, saying that Gooper has devoted himself for the last five years to the upkeep of the property. She compares him unfavorably to Brick, who was living on past glories. Maggie, Mae and Gooper fall to quarreling, and tempers rise. Gooper then admits that he has always resented the fact that Big Daddy has favored Brick over him. He speaks bluntly about the advanced state of his father's illness, and says he knows how to protect his own interests.
This part of the scene focuses on the revelation to Big Mama of the truth of Big Daddy's condition. Although Big Mama finds it very hard to accept what she is told, she does acquire some dignity-a quality that certainly would not have been associated with her up to this point. This is made explicit in the stage directions. When she realizes there is something she has not been told, "Big Mama has a dignity . . . she almost stops being fat." (p. 144).
The telling of the truth to Big Mama also brings out the truth of the family situation that up to this moment has been veiled: the struggle between Gooper and Mae, on the one hand, and Maggie on the other, for the inheritance. Gooper and Mae reveal their true colors here. They are both eager-far too eager-for Big Mama to hear the news, so they can advance their plan to secure control of the property. Gooper reveals the ugliness in his personality when he says, "with grim relish" (p. 136), that he hopes Big Daddy does not have to pay later on for all the food he ate at supper. In a display of hypocrisy, Mae fakes affection for Big Mama, rushing up to her and giving her a hug and a kiss. When the doctor is about to talk about the facts of Big Daddy's condition, Mae encourages him "eagerly" (p. 143). Both Mae and Gooper are eager for Big Daddy to receive morphine injections, which will dull his mind and make it easier for their plan to work. They cloak their motivation by pretending that they only have Big Daddy's welfare at heart.
For her part, Big Mama clearly shows her preference for Brick over Gooper and Mae. She pushes Mae away and wants only to see Brick. Thus the battle lines are drawn between the two factions, and it is unclear which side will prevail.