Tennessee Williams (1911-1983)
Thus, the drama is more radically new in its dramatic techniques than in its subject and theme.
Williams' most striking gifts are to narrate the events gradually, bit by bit in a crescendo of meaningfulness. We are plunged into a story at a point just on the verge of an explosive climax or conclusion. Little by little the sequence of past events seeps out, and it is generally not until the end of the second set that the history is complete. At that point, the full story advances a revelation, not only for the audience, but for the characters, and the major climax is the second act curtain. The remainder of the play is an inexorable working out of the consequences.
Besides the incorporation of the narrative element, there is also the authentic dramatic technique of developing the play through the development of the characters and their relationships. This method is Chekhovian, in the sense that the climaxes are psychological, and the play's rhythm is created not by external events, accidents, or tricks, but by developing relations between people or by an increasing self-awareness in an individual character.
The author's commentary on the setting, characters and meaning, as well as the actions and dialogue is a unique dramatic technique in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. It is not conventional for traditional dramatists describe a character as Williams does in the beginning of the play: "A pretty young woman, with anxious lines in her face". It is also not ordinary, even for most modern dramatists to describe a character's voice like this: "Margaret's voice is both rapid and drawling. In her long speeches she has the vocal tricks of a priest delivering a liturgical chant, the lines are almost sung, always continuing a little beyond her breath so she has to grasp for another..." But even more unusual when Williams gives directions like: "The following scene should be played with great concentration, with most of the power leashed but palpable in what is left unspoken". How could actors do this? This is on the verge of Brick's telling partial truths to his father. It is also a unique type of commentary on the action when Williams says: "Brick has already decided, without knowing that he has made this decision that he is going to tell his father that he is dying of cancer..."
Another important element of the unconventional dramatic technique in this drama is the use of mythical allusions. Brick is identifiable to the mythical Narcissus, who rejected and escaped from Echo, and later fell in love with his own image in the well, and died. He can also be compared to the god Apollo, who accidentally killed his friend Hyacinthus arid regretted throughout his life. Similarly, Maggie is related to the Christian Maggie who could do magic and miracles, and who came to meet Jesus, the child. Maggie is also like the hunter goddess Diana, or in another sense like the Egyptian goddess Isis, who tried many times to save Osiris when he was killed by his brother. Besides these allusions related to Maggie and Brick, there is a general allusion to the ancient Athenian and Platonic belief in the pure and true relationship between man and man.
Surrealism and symbolism in the setting of the drama is another technical element in it. The set is the bed, sitting room where a pair of-homosexual used to live, and died. After describing the stage (the room), the dramatist volunteers again to comment that "the furniture is a complete and compact little shrine to all the comforts and illusions behind which we hide from such things (as truth?) as the characters in the play are faced with...." He goes on to add that the set should be far less realistic than he has just described. The whole scene, he adds, should look like an image seen out of focus through a telescope. This unrealistic or rather surrealistic setting has to do with the evasions from truth about themselves and the world, illusions about reality, and the mendacity with which the characters are living.
Directions and descriptions are not only dramatic but also symbolic, like the 'black' lace and gown, which foreshadows the news of death, and Brick's singing to the moon, which adds to the mood of basic loneliness and irrationality behind the human desire for life. Besides the setting, there are many things, including the characters, which have symbolic in this drama. Big Daddy represents life force. Maggie represents health, healthy sexuality and the affirmation of life, as contrasted to Brick. But Brick, who doesn't want to stick to any value of the past or the society, symbolizes the modern broken man, disillusioned and lost; even his broken ankle symbolizes his broken spirit, and he must rely on both literal and figurative crutches. The cat of the title is the heroine, he roof her husband; he would like her to jump off, that is, find a lover
The dialogue is also another element which is unique and unconventional. Williams has used a typical South American dialect, with a lot of ordinary slang without hesitation. It should be perhaps for the first time that such frank reference to homosexuality was made. The dialogue is perhaps one of the strongest elements, as usual, that helps to bring out the total dramatic effect of this play. Indeed, especially when we read the play, it is only the words from which we recreate the whole world of this unique and powerful drama. The dialogue makes the play so lively; its unique idiom further distinguishes the characters with idiosyncratic stamps. The different dialogues of the different characters express the mentalities of the characters. Big Daddy's jokes are an expression of his disappointment, rather than the expression of any kind of happiness. His language is also full of sexual innuendos and explicit mention of his eroticism, when he talks about Brick's jumping or when he tells Brick how he still has the desire for women. Big Daddy's speech is simple, strong and poetic. Brick's sparse words reflect his reserved state of mind. His dialogue is also the expression of disgust caused by what he calls mendacity. Big Mama's speech reveals her love for Big Daddy and her simple mind. Maggie's tensed language no doubt represents her tense mind; her tone of tension is remarkable. Mae and Gooper's language are always nothing but the expression of greed and meanness. Big Daddy's language is perhaps the most striking, with all his "crap" type of words, his jokes, and the reflection of masculine and dominating nature. The dialogue of this play is also marked by a kind of rhythm. Of course, Maggie's dialogue is even musical. But, the other people's dialogue is also somewhat rhythmic. The repetitions, the imagery and the sexual terms are also typical.
In short, the words are so precise and powerful in bringing out the several themes of illusion and disillusionment, disappointment and frustration, sincerity and insincerity, passion and detachment, greed and isolation, disgust, avarice, and so on. In Williams' dialogue, there are long, rambling speeches and lengthy personal reminiscences. The language is part of the whole creation, like the play itself, a mixture of realism and fantasy, a personalized version of an authentic American idiom.