Brick Pollitt as Homo Ludens: 'Three Players of a Summer Game' and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Citation metadata

Author: Charles E. May
Editor: Lawrence J. Trudeau
Date: 1994
From: Drama Criticism(Vol. 4. )
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 6,239 words

Document controls

Main content

Article Preview :

[(essay date 1980) In the following essay, May investigates the cause of Brick's malaise and alienation in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, arguing that Williams's story "Three Players of a Summer Game" offers insight.]

If Maggie the Cat is one of Tennessee Williams' most dramatically engaging characters, her husband, Brick Pollitt, is one of his most metaphysically mysterious. Brick's enigmatic detachment in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof has been the subject of more problematical commentary than either Maggie's feline restlessness or the spirit of mendacity that dominates the thematic action of the play itself. With his cool ironic smile and relative immobility (suggested both by his literal crutch and by the crutchlike liquor cabinet from which he never strays very far), Brick is, by contrast, the ambiguous center for all the characters in Cat who dance about on the hot tin roof of their "common crisis." Because Brick's detachment is thus so crucial, and also because Williams makes him so teasingly mysterious, the central question of the play that has always puzzled critics, a question still unanswered, is: What, apart from its function as catalyst for the dramatic action, does Brick's detachment mean?

In his "Note of Explanation" in the published version of Cat, Williams makes it quite explicit that for him Brick's "moral paralysis" is central to the play, a "root thing" in Brick's "tragedy." In fact, Williams felt Brick's problem was so basic to his own conception of Cat that of the three changes Elia Kazan urged him to make in the Broadway version of the play, the alteration in Brick's character in the third act is the change to which he devotes most of his explanation. Williams complains that such a dramatic progression tends to obscure the meaning of Brick's tragedy, for no matter how revelatory the conversion, it never effects such an immediate change in the "heart or even conduct of a person in Brick's state of spiritual disrepair" (p. 168). Indeed, Nancy Tischler says that as a result of the change in Brick in the third act of the Broadway version, audiences may leave the theater suspecting that the "whole truth" about him has not been told (p. 210).

However, even those critics who consult Williams' original third act, included in the published version of the play, complain that the meaning of Brick's tragedy remains obscure. Williams' own commentary offers no clarification. He is well aware of the mystery of Brick's personality, and he wishes to leave it that way. "Some mystery should be left in the revelation of character in a play, just as a great deal of mystery is always left in the revelation of character in life, even in one's own character to himself" (pp. 114-15). Although everyone familiar with the play is aware that Brick's disgust with life and resultant detachment has something to do with his homosexual relationship, latent or otherwise, with his friend Skipper, most readers sense that this is not the whole truth. Again, Williams...

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420065277