Gooper, Reverend Tooker, Big Daddy, and then Mae and Dr. Baugh, enter Bricks room. Maggie turns on some music, and there is general conversation, while Brick remains standing apart. Big Daddy shouts to have the music turned off, and there is almost instant silence. Big Mama enters, and Big Daddy makes a cruel joke at her expense, which she laughs off. She is used to doing this, but she is hurt nonetheless by her husbands words. She tells Brick to put his liquor down, and he responds by draining the glass and then handing it to her. She scolds him affectionately, to which he responds by switching on the TV set, and she promptly asks him to turn it off. She hates television. In a playful mood, happy because she thinks Big Daddy is going to be all right, she pulls the Reverend Tooker onto her lap. Mae and Gooper dislike her antics, as does Big Daddy. Big Daddy is in pain and secretly knows there is something wrong with him more than a spastic colon. He tells his wife to stop her horseplay.
The servants enter with the birthday cake, and everyone sings “Happy Birthday.” Big Mama tells Brick the marvelous news that Big Daddy does not have cancer; Maggie breaks in and gives Big Daddy Bricks present to him. Mae asks Brick what it is, and Gooper adds that he suspects Brick doesnt know. Margaret opens the package herself; it is a cashmere robe. She tries to sound surprised, but Mae knows she is not, because the salesgirl at the store in Memphis told her that Maggie has bought it.
Big Daddy calls for silence and glares. He speaks aggressively to Reverend Tooker, and then to Mae, who has tried to change the subject. Bid Daddy then talks to Brick, wanting to know what Brick was doing on the high school athletic field at 3 a.m. Was he chasing a woman when he fell and injured himself? There is nervous laughter. Brick replies that he was not chasing a woman. He was just jumping the hurdles, and he admits that he was drunk.
Big Mama starts to propose a toast for Big Daddy on his birthday, but Big Daddy cuts her off. His wife reproaches him, but he says he will say whatever he wants to. As the others slip out to the gallery, Big Daddy tells his wife that she can stop planning to take over the place and everything in it, because he is not sick after all. He uses insulting language to her, and when she tries to restrain him, he uses more obscene language. He repeats that he is in charge, and proudly relates his history-leaving school at ten to work in the fields, rising to be overseer of the plantation, then partner. The place got bigger and bigger through his efforts. He is not about to give up control to anyone. Hurt, Big Mama asks him whether in all the forty years they have been married, did he never believe that she loved him? She confesses that she even loved his hatred and his hardness. She sobs and runs out to the gallery.
This is the audiences first sight of Big Daddy. He is a big man who dominates the room. This is a man who is used to asserting himself and is not afraid to exert his authority.
Big Daddy prides himself on being forthright and speaking his mind, but he does not necessarily see situations and characters clearly. One of the problems depicted in the play, as Williams himself pointed out, is that the characters tend to view the other characters through the distorting lens of their own egos. Big Daddy, for example, believes that for the last few years, his wife has been scheming to take over the running of the plantation, and he taunts her that now he has been declared free of cancer, her plans will be thwarted. He is wrong on both counts. Big Mama is devoted to her husband and would do nothing to upset him, but he is unable to see that. After she tells him how much she has loved him, even when he was rejecting her, he says to himself, “Wouldnt it be funny if that was true . . .” as if the thought has never occurred to him. It seems that because he does not love her, he assumes that she does not love him. He can only see things from his own perspective.
For her part, Big Mama cannot face the truth either. She cannot acknowledge to herself that her husband does not love her and cannot even stand the sight of her. She cannot acknowledge that when he says cruel things, he really means them-but he does.
The giving of Bricks birthday present to Big Daddy suggests the lack of communication between them that will be alluded to in the second part of the Act. Brick does not buy the gift himself and has to be badgered by Maggie to even sign the card. Big Daddy refuses to open it himself, so Maggie opens it for him. Big Daddy makes no reaction to it, either favorable or unfavorable. Father and son are failing to connect with each other, and Brick will shortly point out that that is the usual pattern between them.