George W. Crandell, in his essay entitled “echo spring”: Reflecting the gaze of Narcissus in Tennessee William’s ‘Cat on a hot tin roof’ claims that Brick’s problem is psychological, whereas Charles E. May in his essay entitled “Brick Pollit as Homo Ludens: ‘Three players of a summers game’ and ‘Cat on a hot tin roof’ affirms that his problem is not psychological but metaphysical. After carefully considering these two viewpoints (A04), consider what you believe to be Bricks essential problem and discuss whether or not Tennessee Williams allows him to resolve it. Then, in your answer, consider the methods Williams uses to present Brick’s dilemma (A03) and examine the contemporary influences working upon him (A05i).
George W Crandells mentions the idea that T.W draws upon mythological analogues to highlight his characters. He compares Brick’s problem to that of mythological character Narcissus, who was so good-looking that he fell in love with his own reflection and whose name now denotes a psychological disorder and believes that his problem is psychological and can be cured. This would have been particularly appealing to Tennessee Williams as his plays have often been commended for their psychological realism. The similarities between Brick and Narcissus are suggested mainly by Brick’s favourite alcoholic beverage (Echo spring) and by Brick’s consistent self-destructive behaviour.
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Also, just like Narcissus, Brick is considered a very handsome and beautiful individual who captures the hearts of ‘boys and girls’ alike. Yet Brick spurns the love of others only to fall in love with his favourite drink, seeing in this an escape route into the way he used to be. And Brick, like Narcissus, pines away from unrequited love, seeming to prefer death than to live life without the object of his affection. And while in the end, death claims Narcissus, Ovid offers us the theory that Narcissus has been dramatically transformed into a beautiful flower. And at the end of scene three in the Broadway version, Williams shows the possibility of Brick also having undergone a ‘miraculous metamorphosis’, giving the ending a lot more optimism for the future.
Brick: I admire you, Maggie. Rather than in the original version, where there is a more pessimistic ending where most of the matter remains unresolved, leaving the audience with much more to think about. Maggie: ‘I do love you, Brick, I do’ Brick: ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if that was true?’ As well as bearing an uncanny resemblance to Narcissus he also shows an alarming number of traits linking to the psychological personality disorder known as Narcissism. Crandell says that the key to understanding Bricks disorder and behaviour is that one must first understand Brick’s condition, not as a physical or existential condition but an understandable and therefore treatable disorder. And once this is understood, we can recognise Brick as the central character whom all the main drama revolves around.
In this stage direction, we see Brick’s importance not only as an isolated individual but about others, all of whom ‘endure a common crisis’ ‘The bird that I hope to catch in the net of this play is not the solution of one man’s psychological problem. Instead, I’m trying to catch the true quality of experience in a group of people, that cloudy flickering, evanescent- fiercely charged!- the interplay of live human beings in the thundercloud of a common crisis.’ This ‘common crisis’ and is greater than ‘one man’s psychological problem’ encircles the majority of the Pollit family, in which Brick commands the centre of attention. This (Bricks Narcissism) for Williams is a microcosm of American culture in this post-war era and of how it will become should society continue to be ruled the way it is by ‘self-interested individuals’ such as Brick. Crandell then explains what Williams does here to compare Brick’s Narcissistic personality to that of an emerging society.
A vast majority of the time have no regard for the past, future or the feelings of others. This can only be the actions of an individual intent upon self-destruction. And this is still reminiscent of society today and has been for thousands of years. Some people feel that society no longer does anything for the common good. But now only to things to gain self-satisfaction and importance. This, as mentioned, has been the downfall of society for thousands of years; for example, the Greek and Roman empires, who, upon conquering most of the known world, began to disintegrate after becoming mainly a pleasure-seeking society full of mendacity and corruption, thus securing its own destruction. And Thus providing us with a perfect example for the future of American society.
He says that Brick’s narcissism in the play acts as a metaphor in a series of symptoms evident in society that often threatens the health and well-being of the American people. For example, Brick’s alcoholism is an underlying symptom of his disorder which Maggie seems to recognise as implies that he needs treatment and threatens to send him to ‘rainbow hill’, a rehabilitation clinic, a place famous for treating alcoholics and dope fiends’. But Brick protests that treatment is the last thing he needs and says that alcohol is the only therapy he needs and gives us the impression that it gives him the strength to continue his existence in a society with such high expectations and deal with the disappointments of his everyday life. On the describes to Maggie the ‘click’ that he experiences when he feels most at peace with himself.
There are 9 symptoms reminiscent of the personality disorder is narcissism. From the list, at least 6 of these symptoms can be seen in the character of Brick are (1) Immense feelings of self-importance (2) Fantasies of ideal love (3) A constant desire for attention (4) Experiencing feelings of rage, shame and humiliation (5) A disability to emphasise with the feelings of others. Crandell explains how Brick’s feelings of self-importance could have stemmed from the constant praise and admiration given to him by members of his family. For Mae describes him as a ‘beautiful athlete’ and Maggie (referring to his physical attractiveness) calls him a ‘superior human being’ and a ‘Godlike being’. We also see how many sufferers of narcissism seem to have various qualities in their characters that manage to arouse the envy or admiration of others. And as we know, Brick is the youngest child in the family and, therefore, the most likely recipient of his family’s affections.
And of course, he is held in resentment by his older brother Gooper who has ‘resented’ him since the day he was born. Mae also shares the same feelings towards him and mocks his entry in the third act with ‘Behold the conquering hero comes!’. In the play, we hear Big Mamma saying that Brick is her ‘only son’. Another tendency of sufferers of narcissism is that they will feel the full force of their family’s expectations of them. And although Brick is not an only child, we can evidently see that he is his parent’s clear favourite by how Big Daddy singles him out to inherit the estate. Also, we can see that Brick is aware of his self-importance from how he consciously serves himself a drink before anyone else.
‘Looks back over his shoulder and smiles with a wry and charming smile and says’ “I’m sorry! Anyone else ?” Bricks second symptom is that of ideal love. Following the death of Skipper, Bricks clings to the friendship that they once shared, blaming himself for what happened. ‘One man has one great good thing in his life. One great good true thing which is true! I had a friendship with Skipper”. And even if Brick was admitting to having something more than just a friendship with Skipper, due to the strict code of what was considered socially acceptable, it is doubtful that Brick would ever admit anything of the sort. As Kernberg says, “Narcissistic patients characteristically develop to adapt themselves to the moral demand of their environment……….”
He then mentions Bricks constant desire for attention and admiration. A signal that not only does he rely on others to boost his self-esteem but that he, contrary to what he may think, actually does crave some contact with people. His constant want of attention spanned through his brief period as a pro football player. And through this, Brick somehow became addicted to the attention it exposed him to. Like alcohol, it became a drug to him through which he could escape. And whilst trying to relive this happy period on a school track, Brick falls and breaks his ankle again, ensuring him the majority of people’s attention. Especially as there is an article written about him in one of the local newspapers, the ‘Clarksdale register’. Even if his family’s feelings are not necessarily those of sympathy, it does not matter as he once again is the centre of attention. This attention is essential to Brick. He thrives upon it, and again it is like some tonic on which he lives. He needs to be admired for attributes such as his beauty, charm and power.
That night on the track, he was merely trying to experience again the one-time glory he had as an athlete. As his second job as a sportscaster proved far less satisfying and failed to deliver him the attention he craved, as for once, all eyes were not on him. In his conversation with Big Daddy, he not only conveys to him his disdain for the job along with the reason he quit, but he acknowledges that time has out-ran him. ‘Sit in a box watching a game I can’t play? Describing what I can’t do while players do it?…. Time just outran me, Big Daddy-got there first”. Could this realisation be part of the road to recovery for Brick? Showing us that even by facing up to just one realisation, we can see signs of a potential recovery.
Another factor in the symptom Crandells seems to analyse is Brick’s cold indifference and his apparent refusal to listen. Our first example of this is (near the end of the first act) when Maggie, having been repeatedly ignored by Brick, is prompted to yell, “Are you listening to me? Are you? Are you LISTENING TO ME?. This is also shown in his communication with Bid Daddy and Bid Mamma. From this, Brick’s selfishness is truly exposed, and we learn that he doesn’t really care for anyone except himself, just like anyone suffering from narcissism might. ‘It’s hard for me’, he says ‘To understand how anybody could care if he lived or died or was dying or cared about anything’. We see that he is concerned only with what troubles him and not the feeling of others. This ‘narcissistic gaze’ disables him from seeing anyone else’s point of view but his own.
Brick’s sudden outburst of rage is also linked to his apparent illness. The majority of this rage we can see is normally vented on Maggie or Big Daddy. And each time, the reason for this anger can nearly always be traced back to his relationship with Skipper. ‘But you started drinking.’ So tells Big Daddy when he speaks of how Skipper’s death may have affected Brick. Brick: ‘YOU THINK SO TOO?’ reply’s Brick jumping to the conclusion that Big Daddy automatically thought that he and Skipper shared more than just a friendship. And following the late-night telephone call that Skipper received in which Skipper chose to reveal to him his true feelings, we learn that Brick hangs up the call, rejecting Skippers love. And upon this, he not only loses his best friend but experiences shame and ‘disgust with himself’.
Maggie is also another main recipient of bricks anger, and he repeatedly threatens to beat her with his crutch if she ever brings up the subject of Skipper. ‘Maggie, you want me to hit you with this crutch……I could kill you with this crutch!’. This anger is driven firstly by his wounded pride and secondly by his petulant desire for revenge upon hearing what he does not want to hear. ‘Only this could help even the score between them: one inadmissible thing in return for another’ He carries his revenge out by refusing to sleep with Maggie and by revealing to Big Daddy that he is, in fact, dying. Another tendency of narcissism is a lack of interest in what happens in the future. Brick proved this by refusing to sleep with Maggie and produce an heir, showing how he does not care for his family’s or the estate’s future. Also, his alcoholism shows his lack of care for himself and his selfishness towards a family that needs him.
Instead, Brick prefers to relive the memories in his head of the times when he was at his happiest. Where he was young and always the centre of attention. There is also an element of Brick being unable to interact with himself as he does not realise that in his case, ‘self-reflection does not lead to self-revelation’. He cannot see that his state of depression is not only from the skipper’s death. But from his own guilt and the fact that he refused to acknowledge Skippers love for him. In the third scene of ‘Cat on a hot tin roof,’ Elia Kazan suggested that Williams make several changes. As like the original story of Narcissus, he considered that Cat on a hot tin roof’ had an equally pessimistic outcome. Death eventually claims Narcissus, yet even in death, his suffering does not end. ‘He found a pool to gaze im/watching his image in the stygian water’. And Elia Kazan felt that it would be wrong for the audience to leave the theatre thinking Brick will never change.
He shows that he will continue not to sleep with her by refusing her pleas for an heir. And he rejects her last-ditch attempt at declaring her love for him by responding with ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if that was true?’. Again this suggests a less than positive outcome. Although in the Revised Broadway version, Williams offers a different and much more positive ending. And just like Ovid, he ‘exploits the optimistic possibilities suggested by the notion of metamorphosis’ in which Narcissus is transformed into a beautiful flower. And like Bricks apparent recovery, this metamorphosis is seen as miraculous.
As if miraculously cured, Brick suddenly becomes aware of his alcohol problem and admits that he has ‘lies to himself’ And is willing to undergo treatment for his condition, unlike in the original scene. He defends Maggie from Mae and Gooper when she lies about being pregnant and says to her, ‘I admire u, Maggie,’ suggesting a much more optimistic outcome for their relationship and the other characters in the play. However, many critics have argued that it would be just too miraculous for Brick to make such a drastic change in such a short space of time. Considering the play does not exceed one day. Susan Koprince, in her essay entitled ‘Tennessee Williams’s unseen characters’ ……
But on the other hand, Charles.E.May believes that what Brick suffers from is Metaphysical rather than psychological. Metaphysical is a certain branch of philosophy that is impossible to explain in sexual or psychological terms. Instead, an individual may struggle to come to terms with their place and purpose in the world. So the question that he is trying to answer is, ‘What does Brick’s detachment mean?’ He means by metaphysical is that like the Shakespearian character ‘Hamlet’ who also suffers from a similar thing in which he cannot find his true identity. As a result, he takes his frustration and disgust at this out on others. Especially his mother, whom he was supposed to have incestuous feelings. Even if she is not truly the object of his disgust, having these feelings towards her makes it easier for him to vent his disgust on her to deal with his situation.
The same rule applies for Brick, who is also going through a bit of an identity crisis himself. And with this, he finds a vent for his disgust and frustration by taking it out on Skipper. And therefore, he is unable to see the real cause for his dilemma. Skipper is just a small part of Brick’s problem. Like Hamlet, who senses ‘that the rottenness in Denmark reflects a rottenness at the heart of existence’, Brick is aware of the mendacity in society and is even aware of the mendacity a little bit closer to home within Big Daddy’s plantation. Big Daddy: If I give you a drink, will you tell me what it is you’re disgusted with Brick? Brick: Have you ever heard of the word mendacity?
Even though Big Daddy fails to understand the general idea of how Brick is trying to explain his problem, he can still recognise that there are problems within the family and problems in society regarding what is socially acceptable. What’s more, Brick does not attempt to even deal with his problem. He seems to have just accepted it and the way that things are. For example, when he drinks to achieve the ‘click’. This is his way of retreating from the world and its harsh realities, such as the true nature of his friendship with Skipper. And because Bricks is the main focus in the play, a great deal of action goes on around him regarding the characters and their motives. And therefore, Brick remains inactive and unrevealed. This is probably because if Brick were to make any effort, it would be the kind of effort doomed to fail.
Also, William’s storytelling narrator says ‘that his self-disgust came upon him with the abruptness and violence of a crash on a highway’. But what was this ‘crash’? Brick was as close as one can get to living the ‘American dream, and he had what most young men would have killed for; he was rich, successful and handsome. So the only thing left to consider is the fact of whether his problem was that of a sexual nature, such as his emasculation by his wife Maggie and sexual impotence. And May goes on to speak of the allusion of castration, ‘The meanest thing one human can do to another human being is to take his respect for himself away from him…I had it took away from me! I won’t tell you how, but maybe, being men about my age, you’d be able to guess it’. He continues this theory of castration when Brick addresses his alcoholism ‘I’m not going to take any cure, and I’m not going to take any pledge, I’m just going to prove I’m a man with his balls back on him’.
But, the irony and contradiction of trying to prove his masculinity should be enough of a hint that Brick’s problem is not that of a sexual nature. We learn that perhaps Bricks problem is more basic and pervasive than that of a sexual matter. And this ‘sexual’ problem is merely a symbol of objectification. In the play, Bricks running game of detachment is as destructive and damaging as in the ‘three players’ story. Brick doesn’t care or love anyone enough o stop playing the game, and consequently, he damages Skipper, Maggie and Big Daddy. All of whom need or have needed his love. The thing is that Brick is actually aware of their need for love, yet he refuses to acknowledge these facts, as involving himself in their problems would mean returning to reality and the chaos of real-life that disgusts him so. He has concluded that the love of another human is not enough to satisfy the soul, but by ‘It’s very nature such a love negates the possibility of such fulfilment’ somewhere.
Perhaps this realisation made Williams object to the changes that Kazan wished for him to make in the last scene. As in the original version, when Maggie announces her pregnancy, Brick remains quiet. But not to help Maggie; it is purely to disentangle himself from the complexities o family life to keep up his continuing indifference. Although in the Broadway version, Bricks last words are ‘I admire you, Maggie’. This gives us the implication that he has found some solution to his problem. However, the conclusion to the original version is far more ambiguous. In the last few lines, Maggie says to Brick, ‘Oh you weak, beautiful people… I do love you…’ and Brick’s final response as the curtain falls is ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if that was true’. This is not just a response to Maggie’s declaration of love for him, but quite a fitting response to Maggie’s claim that all people like Brick need to resolve their metaphysical problems for someone to love them.
In the ‘Three players of a summers game’ we see that the character Isabel is referring to Brick when she answers Mary Louise’s question about why the sun goes south, ‘Precious, the Mother, cannot explain the movements of the heavenly bodies, You know as well as Mother knows it. Those things are controlled by certain mysterious laws that people on earth don’t know or understand.’ And it is the reason that perhaps Tennessee Williams left Brick’s problem unresolved and wished to end the play in the way he did. Perhaps he was trying to emphasise that the matter was out of anyone’s hands, even Bricks, as it is a problem that seems to be unknown by ordinary epistemology or solvable using psychological analysis.