Symbolism, Imagery and Allegory in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire
Tennessee Williams said, in the foreword to Camino Real, "a symbol in a play has only one legitimate purpose, which is to say a thing more directly and simply and beautifully than it could be said in words." Symbolism is used, along with imagery and allegory to that effect in both Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire. Both plays tend to share the same kinds of symbols and motifs; sometimes they achieve the same meaning, sometimes not. It is possible that Williams' took elements from A Streetcar Named Desire to make Cat on a Hot Tin Roof a success. After the success of A Streetcar Named Desire, Williams' next 2 plays The Rose Tattoo and Camino Real didn't relive the success of their predecessor, therefore it is prudent to assume that Williams went back to his `winning formula'.
A prominent symbol in both plays is that of alcohol as an escape. In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Brick's crutch is a symbol of his dependency on alcohol. Thomas Adler states, "The injured leg is clearly meant to symbolize a loss of power; without the crutch he is dependent on others ... [however, he] depends on a different kind of crutch, drink, to see him through." (Adler p.149-150). I agree with Griffin when she states "Brick drinks to escape a truth he cannot face, that he caused his friend Skipper's death" (Griffin p.153). Brick takes his physical and metaphorical crutch to defend himself from his past, while at the same time reliving an idealised version of that past.
Brick would rather lean on his `crutch' than on Maggie, this is expressed in the play's dialogue:
MARGARET: Lean on me.
BRICK: No, just give me my crutch.
MARGARET: Lean on my shoulder.
BRICK: I don't want to lean on your shoulder, I want my crutch! [Italics Williams']
This dialogue is symbolic of Brick's decision to take an ideal past over an uncertain future. The `click' in Brick's head is his escape; it echoes the click of the phone when he hung up on Skipper. It means that he doesn't have to face the truth anymore just like he didn't with Skipper. The alcohol leads to the click and the click leads to escape. At the end of the play, Maggie removes both of Brick's crutches until he satisfies her physically in trying for a baby. This is symbolically forcing Brick to face the future before wallowing in the past.
In A Streetcar Named Desire, one of the first things Blanche does when arriving at Elysian Fields is "look around for some liquor" (Streetcar p.120), just as she looks for an escape from her own past. This symbolism puts new meaning in Blanche's line "[looking down at the glass, which shakes in her hand]: You're all I've got in the world, and your not glad to see me!" it leaves one wondering whether she is talking to Stella or to the liquor at this point.
Both Brick and...