The System of Mendacity
About the Play- Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’, potentially one of the most descriptive titles in history, immediately and viscerally sets the tone of this Pulitzer Prize-winning play. The metaphor alone evokes the consistent struggle to make your way through discomfort, dodging the ever-present unspoken obstacles to our own freedom. This explosive work, filled with provocative symbolism, explores the mendacity of human nature that fills our world with self-imposed illusions created to subsequently fit a mold.
First produced in the 1950s ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ has become one of the most revered works in the American theatre canon. Its transcendent appeal is due partly in fact to the realism of the piece. In a world filled with untruths the realistic way in which Tennessee Williams presents his themes allows for an ironically truthful representation of human nature. At its core ‘Cat’ highlights the damaging ways in which we hide from the world and inevitably ourselves.
As Brick states “Mendacity is a system that we live in, liquor is one way out an' death's the other.” A statement that shows a world view where lying and living are synonymous, where one does not exist without the other. Denial. Lies. Deceit. All permeate the existence of the central characters, each motivated by their own attempts to resist authenticity in an effort to conform to socio-cultural expectations. These deceptions are filled with ripple effects felt far beyond the individual. As is seen through Brick’s denial of his relationship with Skipper, the effects that had on Skipper’s life, and the effect it continues to have on Brick’s relationship with Maggie.
A central symbol of this escapist mentality exists in the presence and consistent reference to the console, a gift to Big Mamma, containing a tv, radio-phonograph, and liquor cabinet. The structure serves as a shrine to the “comforts and illusions”, as Williams states, behind which we hide from true human connection. Each character utilizes it at some point to escape the world around them. Big Daddy uses it to drown out Big Mamma’s need for conversation. Brick escapes constantly to the liquor cabinet to repress any emotion.
For a modern audience, a comparison can justifiably be made to the “screens” we place before ourselves. Unlike the Pollits, however we are more equipped than ever to craft our own illusions and distract from truth. Daily bombarded by media and “fake news”, social feeds filled with staged images, and data collecting makes it increasingly more difficult to tell reality from fiction. Thus training ourselves to manufacture our lives, to project to the world only what we want to be seen, creating self-imposed limitations. Ultimately running the risk, as Brick and Maggie have done, of preventing any type of genuine intimacy and connection.
“We don’t live together we occupy the same cage.” Maggie sums up the cause and effect nature of this type of life, the system of mendacity. Where each unspoken truth, deception, or falsehood welds together to build the bars of our own cages. Brick and Maggie exist together but never truly connect, never fully allow themselves to be authentic with the other or the outside world. And with every false word uttered, another obstruction placed before them. But isn’t that the way of it? The walls that we build to protect ourselves more often than not become the exact walls that trap us.
The conclusion of the play highlights the cyclical nature of this system of mendacity. Without spoiling the final scene—we see Maggie, in an attempt for self-preservation, continue the thread of deceit by cultivating another falsehood filled with lasting impact. Reiterating the idea that life, at least from this perspective, is filled with lies that guide us. And like that cat on the hot tin roof we continually thrust ourselves into our own discomfort forgetting that the truth will always be the truth, even if no one believes it.
by Clinton Williams | Media & Communications at San Jose Stage