Brick says that “Mendacity is a system we live in. Liquor is one way out, death is another…”. Discuss Williams’ treatment of mendacity and truth and a theme in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’.
‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ is essentially about Tennessee Williams as a writer exposing universal truths to an unsuspecting audience, by testing social boundaries. The characters in this 1950s patriarchal play are sensationalised and give us an unclear ending to prove to the audience that his issues are something to be debated. The idea of ‘mendacity’ is Williams’ way of microcosmically encompassing society through a central character’s role within a family setting. It explores human relationships and attitudes towards one another. Brick is a character facing the effects of being pushed into social limbo in order to achieve a conventionality that simply cannot exist.
All of the characters are involved with lies in one form or another. The audience is shown how people lie to placate themselves as the truth can be too difficult to accept. Brick significantly poses the question, ‘Who can face the truth? Can you?’
Brick’s character depicts resignation and capitulation. His own name embodies this; he has assumed the status of a brick as a result of his entire life. Being one of the play’s protagonists, he challenges the status quo as society’s repressive attitude to ‘unnatural behaviour’ unfurls. As he superficially attempts to appease his conscience, it leaves him to battle his instincts and confront his rights to lead a ‘normal’ life, which in itself is debatable. What is a ‘normal’ life? The play indicates that it is one free from institutionalised prejudices. Brick’s alcohol dependency reduces him to yearn for a mechanical ‘click’ in his head, to allow him peace in a world he detests. He builds up a screen, isolating those around him giving his persona a “natural coolness” that verges on being dysfunctional. This is the “coolness of repression, a repression that keeps his desires at bay” (sparknotes.com)
Brick is a product of his environment. All around him, people are attempting to fit into the system of life as it stands. He is left disillusioned at this concept thus leaving those around him bewildered, drawing them to the conclusion that he is depressive. In reality, it is the system of lies and lying, which he has tried to detach himself from. His indifference to the world “…is materialised in his injury” (sparknotes.com/drama/cat/analysis). He has been crippled through attempting something different. No one can offer a cogent reason as to why he jumped the hurdles, which represented his former existence as can no one face the idea of his homosexuality. His detachment is withdrawing himself from society. This was Williams’ way of trying to prove that his play was not solely written to create controversy about a taboo of the time.
Big Daddy’s “decidedly narcissistic…love” (sparknotes.com) adds to Brick’s struggles as Big Daddy desires an heir to his fortunes – to preserve his “immortality”. Brick is burdened with the task of living up to the expectations drawn out for him. However, despite Brick’s obvious resentment with these expectations, Big Daddy and Brick share the most honest relationship in the play. Neither of them conceals the truth from each other on fundamental or obvious issues. Big Daddy states that Brick has a drinking problem and Brick simply responds “yes, sir, yes, I know”. However, when it comes to the two chief issues of Big Daddy’s imminent death and Brick’s homosexuality, neither can easily address each other. This demonstrates the difference in mendacity and one’s ability to communicate. Neither can raise the issues without feeling awkward. Both characters are not attempting to use “mendacity” as a way out for personal gain in “the system” but are merely trying to articulate their ideas. Big Daddy notes this when he remarks, “Why is it so damn hard for people to talk?” Big Daddy in his insensitive vulgarity continues to approach Brick’s homosexuality feebly. Williams created Big Daddy’s character to create a bluntness in addressing issues to help the audience in prising out significant issues, using crudeness. This way it would appear as truth in whatever was revealed. However, Big Daddy is unable to reach the important aspect in this circumstance so adding to the chaos of conflicting ideas between himself and Brick.
After Brick reveals “mendacity” is his trouble, it becomes clear that Big Daddy’s regard for mendacity emerges with the use of “crap” in response to things he think appropriate. He speaks of how he lived with mendacity and how “there’s nothing else to live with except mendacity”. Brick responds with “liquor” as his way out and Big Daddy telling him that he is “dodging away from life”. This leaves Brick more vulnerable as the screen he has built up is slowly crumbling although it is not yet evident.
Big Daddy believes that he understands Brick and he can empathise with him. He speaks of how “Peter Ochello quit eatin’ like a dog does…” implying how he understands Brick’s plight. This only enrages Brick further. Both characters hold the unspoken issues in the others lap and begin as equals. As he speaks of his interpretation of Brick and Skipper’s relationship, Brick immediately responds with ” Oh you think so, too, you call me your son and a queer. Oh!” It demonstrates instinctive defensiveness. This is the most visible attempt by Williams to throw the audience of the theme of mendacity and base it on homosexuality as he creates so much significance. He manages this by changing Brick’s persona as he begins acting erratically – uncharacteristically. However, it displays Brick’s mendacious attitude to himself. It raises the question as to whether he can face challenging his masculinity and “unnatural” homosexual longings in this suppressive society. It challenges the reasoning as to whether he really is caught up in the system of mendacity by lying to the person who controls this disgust with the system – himself. Big Daddy realises this and accuses him: “This disgust and mendacity is disgust with yourself.”