The play begins on a summer morning. The Pollitt family has come together to celebrate the birthday of the patriarch Big Daddy.
The previous evening Big Daddy’s son Brick broke his leg while participating in hurdles at the school track. His wife Margaret chides him for this as well as his drinking habits. Actually she is trying to seduce him. Brick has refused to sleep with Maggie ever since his friend Skipper’s death. Maggie is desperate to sleep with Brick both to satisfy her physical urges as well as to get pregnant.
Maggie feels that it is as urgent need to produce an heir because Big Daddy is dying. Moreover he has not declared it and he does not have a will. Maggie is terribly afraid of being poor, so she wants to make sure she and Brick have a secure place in Big Daddy’s will. But she has to contend with Brick’s brother Gooper and his wife’s significant brood of children.
On the other hand, Brick is too numb with liquor to care about anything. He makes clear that he is disgusted by Maggie and completely uninterested in anything she has to say. He is emotionally affected whenever the topic of Skipper comes up. Actually Brick and Skipper were best of friends but Maggie always thought that their relationship was a bit more than this. She had called Skipper out to talk about his attraction to Brick and to prove her wrong Skipper slept with her. Both Maggie and Skipper however were making love to one another fantasizing about Brick shortly after, Skipper began to self destruct and soon died. At this point Brick turned to liquor as well.
Meanwhile, they are interrupted by the arrival of more family members. Everyone but Big Mama and Big Daddy knows that Big Daddy is dying. They had been told by the doctor that he just had a spastic colon. That night, the sons will tell their mother the truth. After a round of happy birthday, the older couple is left alone Big Daddy is cruel to Big Mama, who insists that she loves him even though he doesn’t believe her. He is frustrated that she has taken charge of the estate since he became sick but now that he thinks that his days are no longer numbered he is going to take all back and return. Big Mama to her place.
Big Mama leaves and Big Daddy summons Brick. He tries to be a little frank but Brick doesn’t open up.
Big Daddy persists in making an effort at communication telling stories about travels in Europe and about poverty. He even talks of taking on a mistress.
Then he tries to coerce his son into admitting why he drinks. Eventually he steals his crutch and knocks him down with some more efforts Big Daddy zeroes in on the truth and it all comes back to Brick’s friend Skipper. That night when Skipper and Maggie slept together, Skipper called Brick and tries to make an admission. Brick hung up on him, because he was entirely incapable of even allowing the possibility of homosexuality into his outlook. It is the disgust with himself and with the world that drove Brick to the Bottle.
In a fit of anger after being confronted with the truth of his relationship with Skipper, Brick tells Big Daddy that he has cancer. Big Daddy leaves in despair. The rest of the family enters with difficulty, Big Mama is told that Big Daddy has cancer although she refuses to believe it at first. She tells Maggie that Brick has to get his act together, so that he can take care of the estate when Big Daddy is gone.
Mae and Gooper pounce on this and they produce legal papers that would establish a will favourable to their interests. They try to convince Big Mama that this is the best option, especially due to Brick’s alcoholism and Maggie’s childlessness. Maggie takes this as her cue and announces grandly that she is with child. Though, Mae and Gooper do not believe her, Big Mama rejoices and leaves to tell Big Daddy. Maggie and Brick are left alone. Brick says that Maggie was too bold to make that lie. Maggie however intends to turn the lie into truth. She takes away Brick’s liquor and says that she won’t allow him to drink unless he consents to sleep with her. Meanwhile Big Mama comes searching for the morphine that the doctor has left for Big Daddy. The pain has set in – she leaves. As the play ends Maggie tells Brick that she loves him. Brick wonders “wouldn’t it be funny if that were true?”