Big Daddy creates a powerful presence in Tennessee Williams’ 1955 play. From early in the second act on, he makes his opinion known to the audience. He is a complex character who is conservative in his affinity towards others. For the few that he does love, however, he proves to be a valiant and capable father.
Big Daddy arrives at the plantation home to find Brick drowning in alcoholism and does everything in his power to save him. Several dialogues of over a dozen pages in this play are dedicated to Big Daddy’s father-son talks with Brick. He takes away Brick’s crutch and refuses to give him his much desired drink until Brick admits why he is an alcoholic. He then bargains with him further to explain what he is so disgusted with. He even resorts to criticism to coax his son away from liquor: “You can’t [concentrate] because your brain is soaked with liquor, is that the trouble?” (Williams 110) and “I’ve lived with mendacity. Why can’t you?” (111) He shows his love for Brick, “You I do like for some reason, did always have some real feeling for - affection - respect...You and being a success as a planter is all I ever had any devotion to in my whole life! - and that’s the truth” (111). It is unquestionable that Big Daddy loves Brick and acts in every way possible to make him see the error in his addiction. He wants Brick to be happy and restore order in his life by freeing him of the arrested development. It proves successful when late in the play, Brick proceeds to make love to Maggie for the first time in an extended period. He even repeats his father’s response to a spouse loving him in the closing lines of Act Three, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that was true?” (173) Brick possesses a part of his father that Big Daddy finds pleasing. Brick has a youthful body and was conceived according to plan. Gooper, conversely, no longer has aesthetics and Big Mama’s pregnancy with him forced Big Daddy to marry her. Big Daddy is angry with Gooper for the lack of freedom that he represents, the litter of children, and the domineering wife he is caged within. Maggie is far more submissive than Mae and does not have a child. Such fundamental differences are what make Big Daddy biased among his own sons.
Almost complimentary to his love for Brick is Big Daddy’s dislike for nearly everyone else in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. He repeatedly yells at Big Mama. He says things like “You don’t know a goddam thing and you never did” and “I haven’t been able to stand the sight, sound, or smell of that women for forty years now! - even when I laid her” (110). He even accuses her of trying to “take over” for the last three years, of the twenty eight thousand acres and the family. He shows that he does not love Big Mama and the fear and frustration of being terminal brought him to make such accusations. He says that he pretends “to love that son of a bitch of Gooper and his wife Mae and those five same screechers” (110) Gooper acknowledges this by saying that he did not appreciate being treated like he was barely good enough to be spit on since the day Brick was born. Big Daddy even waits until after Margaret lies about being pregnant to have Gooper summon his lawyer to draw up a will. The only blood relative that Big Daddy has patriarchal love for is Brick. Brick showed great potential when he was younger, but tragedy befell him and he lives in a compromised existence in the play. Big Daddy connects with him for this reason. Even more basely, Brick is a child that is crying out for help, a distressful alarm for even apathetic parents. Big Daddy does not care at all for the rest. He was waiting for Brick to turn his life around and bare, hope of, a child because he feels that only Brick is the rightful heir to his fortunes. He will leave little, if anything, for Big Mama or Gooper and Mae. He will likely die in peace now.
Big Daddy claims to have suffered a great deal of loss and mendacity. His partial affection is likely a result of this, as he struggles to save his son with disregard for others in his lineage. Though this may be cruel, he is successful.