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Study Guide : Cat On a Hot Tin Roof: Historical content of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

A guide to assist in the study of the play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams - providing background information and additional resources

 

The setting for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof  is a Mississippi plantation in the summer in the mid 1950s. Big Daddy, one of the main characters in the play, is the owner of the plantation. On the plantation is where cotton is picked. The 1950s is the time where the Civil Rights movement was in effect. At this time, nobody had slaves, but almost all of the field hands and the servants for Big Daddy were black. 
 
    At this time, homosexuality wasn't really a thing that you had out in the open. That is why the question of whether or not Brick was in a homosexual relationship with Skipper is such a major, and controversial part of the play. The fact that Williams even wrote a character that was (possibly) secretly gay caused an uproar. Many people do believe that Brick was gay, because he isn't showing any sexual interest in Maggie, and because he did start drinking right after Skipper committed suicide. At the time, the American Psychiatric Association listed homosexuality as a mental disorder. 

    In 1953, President Eisenhower even made it an executive order that if a federal employee were found to be a homosexual that he or she could be fired. Most defense industries and others with government contracts followed this example. The U.S. Postal Service even aided these industries by putting tracers on suspected homosexuals' mail in order to gather enough evidence for dismissal and possibly arrest.

    Because the play setting is in the mid-1950s, that means that it takes place after World War II, when the baby boom started to take place. This means that it was normal for husbands and wives to have multiple children at this point in time. Gooper and Mae, Brick's brother and sister-in-law, have five children and another one on the way. Maggie and Brick don't have any children of their own. Aside from the fact that Big Daddy does want to give his plantation to Brick; Mae and Gooper feel that they are entitled to it because they have children that can take over things once they age. 

    The fact that Brick and Maggie have not had any children after being together and being married is one of the main points of frustration for "Maggie the Cat" in the play. Not just because she does want to have children of her own; but also because she doesn't want to see Brick lose his share of the land just because he won't go to bed with her to even try to conceive a child. 

Sources:
  • "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." SparkNotes. SparkNotes, n.d. Web. 7 Nov. 2012. <http://www.sparknotes.com/drama/cat/facts.html>.
  • "Homosexuality: Then and Now." Squidoo. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Nov. 2012. <http://www.squidoo.com/catroof104>.
  • "Allies & Advocates." A Brief History of Homosexuality in America. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Nov. 2012. <http://www.gvsu.edu/allies/a-brief-history-of-homosexuality-in-america-30.htm>.
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