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Is Big Daddy Gay?
Posted by Jordan Catalano 2013-01-02 11:35:05


Watching CAT last night, I started to wonder if the very mean Big Daddy was also gay. His understanding and compassion towards his son when talking about the issue combined with his attitudes towards his wife got me thinking. I tried looking online to see if I could find any analysis that discussed this but didn't see anything.

I'd never thought of the character in this way before, and maybe it's just the way that Ciaran Hinds takes on the character, but is this common thinking or am I just reading too much into it?

Is Big Daddy Gay?
Posted by wonderwaiter 2013-01-02 11:45:17


"For example, in Sedgwick’s terms, Big Daddy may better exemplify
homosexual panic than does Brick. Big Daddy is outwardly entirely
unpanicked by possible homosexuality. He himself, he says, ‘‘knocked
around in [his] time . . . slept in hobo jungles and railroad Y’s and flophouses
in all the cities . . .’’ (Cat 85–86); he even implies that he had sexual relations
with Straw and Ochello, who left the plantation to him. But Big Daddy’s
knowingness about homosexuality and his implied comfort with it are also a
strategy in dealing with double bind, also a mode of self-deception, since,
in our culture, homosexuality and homosociality cannot, in fact, be
distinguished. Male teenagers who attack some supposed evidence of
homosexuality in a victimized boy in their group with the taunt ‘‘We Know
What That Means!’’ (Sedgwick, Epistemology 204) are trying to draw a line
between themselves and the homosexual and place themselves on the right
side of it. In fact, any claim to know homosexuality is a lie, which, according
to Sedgwick, ‘‘animates and perpetuates the mechanism of homophobic
male self-ignorance and violence and manipulability’’ (Epistemology 204).
Big Daddy may thus be in deeper denial than Brick, and his apparent
comfort with homosexuality – which implies confidence in his heterosexuality
– may be a deeper form of the ‘‘mendacity’’ than that he deplores.
It is striking that, just before his scene with Brick, Big Daddy emphasizes
his desire to find a woman and ‘‘strip her naked and choke her with
diamonds and smother her with minks and hump her from hell to breakfast’’
(Cat 80) – a perhaps overstated display of heterosexual desire. Brick responds
to Big Daddy’s forcing him to deal with his potential homosexuality
by revealing to him that his family has lied to him and he is going to die
shortly of cancer of the bowel. As several critics have noted, bowel cancer is
associated in Williams’s writings with homosexuality; specifically, it is, as
David Savran says, ‘‘the currency of moral debt in Williams’s homosexual
economy’’ (101), the price that must be paid for a homosexual secret. Big
Daddy’s panicked reaction to Brick’s revelation of his affliction could thus be
viewed as a manifestation of – or perhaps a metaphor for – his fear of his own
potential homosexuality, a fear that his urbane knowingness has only
masked. Because this happens at a much deeper level of psychic
symbolization than does Brick’s response to the homosexualization of his
relationship with Skipper, it more accurately reflects the kind of role
Sedgwick sees homosexual panic playing in our culture."


Arrell, Douglas (1), AUTHOR
Source:
Modern Drama; Spring2008, Vol. 51 Issue 1, p60-72, 13p

Sorry for the wonky formatting, but I was copying and pasting from a pdf.


Is Big Daddy Gay?
Posted by GavestonPS 2013-01-02 15:02:22


^^^Formatting will be your last worry when Pal Joey catches you quoting Edie Sedgwick. And I must say, when Mr. Arrell suggests that dismay at a diagnosis of bowel cancer must mean one is a closet queen (as if straight men don't mind cancer), I see Joey's point.

The post-modernists quoted ignore the very simple fact that for Big Daddy's generation, hetero- and homosexuality were defined by sexual position (active/passive) not the sex of one's partner. As long as Big Daddy was the penetraTOR, he was secure in his normalcy. He also displays a surprisingly tolerant attitude toward penetraTEEs, such as his friends, the previous owners of the plantation, but they are the ones who are "different".

So did Big Daddy enjoy what WE would call "gay sex" when he was a young man? Apparently.

Is he gay (in his terms or ours)? Probably not.


Is Big Daddy Gay?
Posted by Jordan Catalano 2013-01-02 15:21:22


So are you saying he's bisexual?

Is Big Daddy Gay?
Posted by JoeKv99 2013-01-02 15:22:18


It's been a million years but I always thought Big Daddy screwed around with boys but "did his duty" and settled down with women. His anger at Brick is over Brick not being able to move on and do his duty with Maggie. It's time to put that aside and father some children, Brick.

Is Big Daddy Gay?
Posted by PalJoey 2013-01-02 15:24:35


Formatting will be your last worry when Pal Joey catches you quoting Edie Sedgwick.

Edie Sedgwick's views on Big Daddy's latent homosexuality would have been fun.




He quoted Eve Sedgwick, who, may she rest in peace, was never a lot of fun.

Is Big Daddy Gay?
Posted by Jordan Catalano 2013-01-02 15:25:58


But seeing his disgust with Big Mama leads me to believe that he might have "done his duty" but he hates having to have done it.

Is Big Daddy Gay?
Posted by wonderwaiter 2013-01-02 15:29:41


That was just the first article that turned up when I searched my library's database... I didn't mean to imply an endorsement of either Arrell or Sedgwick, but rather to let Jordan know that he wasn't reading too much into it.

I'm sure there's more but I didn't have time to dig any deeper at that moment.

Is Big Daddy Gay?
Posted by GavestonPS 2013-01-02 15:30:22


Jordan, according to Freud (and Williams was in Freudian analysis) almost EVERYONE is potentially bisexual.

Joe, you're right that Big Daddy implies homosexual behavior is a sort of fooling around that boys and young men try, and I'm sure he expects Brick to "grow up" and do his duty. But without rereading the play, I'm not sure that means Big Daddy prefers child play to adult heterosexual activity or that he has sublimated his own homosexuality out of "duty".

It was a pretty common attitude when I lived in the Deep South: boys fool around together and then stop when women become available to them. If that's what Daddy means, it may not even matter who penetrates whom. Age would be the defining factor rather than sexual position.

Okay, now *I'm* going to be in trouble with Joey, too.

Is Big Daddy Gay?
Posted by GavestonPS 2013-01-02 15:32:47


Thank you, Joey. Yes, I meant Eve, not Edie. The former, by the way, was capable of writing an occasional page of brilliantly clear prose which she would then bury amidst many chapters of post-modernist jargon.

***

And FWIW, who among us, gay or straight, would NOT be repelled by Big Mama? I don't find that particularly significant.

Is Big Daddy Gay?
Posted by GavestonPS 2013-01-02 17:42:24


Jordan, I know you don't cry in the corner because I (or anyone else) disagree with you; but I should have acknowledged that of course you are entitled to see CAT differently than I do. And differently than Williams does as well.

I think conversations bog down sometimes with too much "of course you're entitled to your opinion but" posts. But of course you are.

For the record and IIRC, Williams always insisted that Brick himself was heterosexual, that his problem is that others (his friend and his wife) fail to live up to his ideals. And that in turn causes him to question everything, including himself.

So if Williams wrote Brick as hetero, I doubt the playwright intended Big Daddy to be secretly gay. But that's just Williams' opinion. You and I are entitled to our own.

***

P.S. to Pal Joey: the irony is that I have read three books by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. All I know about Edie is that she shot Andy Warhol. As Dan Quayle put it, "A mind is a terrible thing not to have one." Or maybe it was Antony Quayle...

Is Big Daddy Gay?
Posted by CarlosAlberto 2013-01-02 17:43:06


Of course he's gay, how'd you think he got the name "Big Daddy"?

Is Big Daddy Gay?
Posted by GavestonPS 2013-01-02 17:48:09


^^^The same way children in the South remain "babies" until they graduate from college. It's a different language.

Is Big Daddy Gay?
Posted by JayG 2 2013-01-03 13:15:42


If it's a Rob Assford production - EVERYONE is GAY!!

Is Big Daddy Gay?
Posted by ghostlight2 2013-01-03 14:36:49


I'm never sure if you're joking, GavestonPS, but Valerie Solanas, admittedly a contemporary of Edie Sedgewick's, shot Andy Warhol.

Oh, topic? No, I don't think Big Daddy is gay.

Is Big Daddy Gay?
Posted by Owen22 2013-01-03 15:29:51


Big Daddy Bear!!

Is Big Daddy Gay?
Posted by GavestonPS 2013-01-03 19:32:58


Thank you, ghostlight. Yes, sometimes I'm joking. Just as often, I'm clueless. Alas, this thread appears to inspire the latter. I appreciate the correction.

Quite obviously, I don't know who the hell Edie Sedgewick is, so God only knows why I brought her up in the first place.

Is Big Daddy Gay?
Posted by FindingNamo 2013-01-03 19:41:25


Maybe you should just relax and stop making such painfully visible struggles to keep up?

Is Big Daddy Gay?
Posted by GavestonPS 2013-01-03 19:53:34


I'm perfectly relaxed, Namo, and I had no problem keeping up with the actual topic of this thread.

I did make errors in a couple of flippant one-liners, which I readily admit. Doing so caused no detour in the actual discussion, however.

If you're saying that I should think twice before making wisecracks, I'll admit that you may have a point. Not saying I'll change, just that you are probably right.

Is Big Daddy Gay?
Posted by ghostlight2 2013-01-03 20:22:18


"I don't know who the hell Edie Sedgewick is, so God only knows why I brought her up in the first place."

Oh, quite possibly because someone else quoted Eve Sedgwick, and the names are quite similar? Easy mistake to make. As to the rest, both Edie and Solanas had direct connections to Warhol, so you weren't totally off-base there, either.

"Maybe you should just relax and stop making such painfully visible struggles to keep up?"

And possibly you could be just a little more kind about a simple and understandable error? Consider just letting it go without making a comment that serves no other purpose than to be pointlessly nasty?

Is Big Daddy Gay?
Posted by FindingNamo 2013-01-03 20:44:05


My point was not to be nasty.

Is Big Daddy Gay?
Posted by Jordan Catalano 2013-01-03 20:56:24


Why are you guys fighting about the chick from THE CLOSER? Is SHE gay?

Is Big Daddy Gay?
Posted by broadwaybabytn 2013-01-03 21:29:10


"The same way children in the South remain "babies" until they graduate from college. It's a different language."

As a Southerner all my life, I don't understand this. It's a different culture, and the language is sometimes used differently, but the heart of it is the same.

Is Big Daddy Gay?
Posted by EricMontreal22 2013-01-03 21:49:51


Of course to clean itself up, the film took the idea that Brick simply has to "grow up" and ran with it--instead of any specifically homosexual behaviour, Brick's problem is made one just of delayed adolescents.

It's true that in interviews Williams' maintained that Brick was straight (though he was much more vague about it after he himself publicly came out in the early 70s on TV)--but I don't buy it for a minute and I think he was just trying to twist people's perceptions and point out something by saying that. That's a massive presumption for me to make, but I think any reading of those interviews with Williams makes it pretty obvious he wasn't being fully serious.

Is Big Daddy Gay?
Posted by ZiggyCringe 2013-01-04 02:38:41


NO, Big Daddy isn't gay.
Brick? YES. Big Daddy GETS that Brick is a homo. Ergo the problem.

Is Big Daddy Gay?
Posted by GavestonPS 2013-01-04 17:38:48


As a Southerner all my life, I don't understand this. It's a different culture, and the language is sometimes used differently, but the heart of it is the same.

Also from the South, I was joking. I believe "Big Daddy" and "Big Mama" are terms for grandparents, to distinguish them from Brick's brother and his wife who are "Daddy" and "Mama" to their own children. (But I haven't reread the play in 10 years.) "Big Daddy" also serves to symbolize how the man is seen by everyone.

***

If Brick is gay, then Maggie is just a fool in her final speech and the play is pointless. IMO, obviously.

Brick's problem is that his wife and his best friend have betrayed him by not living up to his ideals. Maggie's point is that we don't stop living just because we experience disillusion. Yet surely we all know by now that sexuality isn't a duality but a spectrum, so, yes, in that sense, Brick may have glimpsed the homoeroticism inherent to close male friendships and may be troubled by it. That's not the same thing as being in the closet.

All of this would be quite clear if I could just use the Warhol Factory group as an extended analogy. But I have eschewed that behavior at Namo's request. (Thanks again, ghostlight2.)

Is Big Daddy Gay?
Posted by EricMontreal22 2013-01-05 22:09:53


I think Brick's sexuality should be left somewhat ambiguous--but I really don't agree at all that if he is gay that makes Maggie's final speech (and I'm not sure which version of her speech you mean, so maybe that plays a part), foolish.

Is Big Daddy Gay?
Posted by trixigold 2013-01-06 17:19:51


I always thought it was a given that Brick was a closeted or repressed gay man, perhaps even in the closet to himself. It's even implied in the film version.

Is Big Daddy Gay?
Posted by henrikegerman 2013-01-07 09:18:05


Theory.

Brick compartmentalizes. His sexual attraction for Maggie, now dissipated by guilt, never completely fulfilled him. The question at the end - could it if he'd allow himself to fully love her? Mistrust of Maggie , feeling misunderstood by her, and poor role modeling in his parental relationship come in to play in defining the limits of his marriage, and underscore his disgust with himself and life.

His love for Skipper, now corrupted by guilt, wasn't, for him, sexual. Either because he just wouldn't allow it to be, or because he wasn't sexually interested. I tend to think the latter.

Like Stella, he's the dualistic battlefield on which eroticism and the spirit play out, and the big battle was when the two people he's torn between end up in bed. Of course in Cat, this is backstory, and unconsummated. In Streetcar, it's climactic and rape. Just as Stanley and Blanche wage war over Stella, Maggie and Skipper wage war over Brick. The ultimate battle is when the two sides meet in bed.

Big Daddy may be just as compartmentalized as Brick but it doesn't disgust him. He accepts himself and life's complexities.

Like many heterosexual men, Big Daddy may have had sex with men in his life. Brick didn't. Brick wouldn't. Perhaps Big Daddy did (but it was not defining of his sexuality). Big Daddy's relative open-mindedness and ability to work for gay men don't answer the question whether he ever had gay sex (and how would it matter if he had?). In any event, both characters are heterosexual.