Sweat

by

Lynn Nottage

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Sweat: Act 2, Scene 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
October 18, 2008. In the news, thousands of Latin American immigrants are leaving the U.S. as manual labor and service industry jobs dry up. Chris enters the bar, which has been refurbished, and sits at a table. Oscar is standing behind the counter. Oscar says he heard that Chris and Jason got out, and he pours Jason a beer. Chris compliments the bar’s new look, and Oscar says they’re catering to a new crowd—the customers have been mostly college kids since Olstead’s closed. He tells Chris that Howard retired to Phoenix—Oscar is the manager and weekend bartender now, which impresses Chris.
The news of Latinx immigrants leaving the U.S. suggests that white working-class people and minority immigrants are facing similar struggles—and thus, the racial tension between these two groups is largely misplaced and unwarranted. Chris seems to have come to this conclusion on his own, as he clearly no longer resents Oscar for taking hours at Olstead’s and now wants to make peace. The bar, as an ongoing symbol of both working-class escapism and of nostalgia and tradition, has been remodeled since 2000, which sends the message that it’s possible for a community—and the individuals that comprise it—to adapt and move on rather than staying hung up on the past. Oscar’s upward trajectory from busboy to manager mirrors this idea.
Themes
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Economic Strain and Race Relations Theme Icon
Shame, Regret, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Just as Chris is about to say something, Jason walks in. Oscar grows nervous and asks what’s going on. Jason panics and turns to leave, but Chris tells him to stay. Just then, Stan—now severely disabled due to his traumatic brain injury—enters. Chris acknowledges him, but Oscar tells him that Stan can’t hear very well. They watch as Stan wipes tables and struggles to reach for his cloth when he drops it; Jason rushes over and picks it up for him. Stan thanks him in garbled speech. Jason says that it’s nice how Oscar takes care of him now, and Oscar replies that this is simply how things should be. Chris and Jason look apologetic, but they’re unable to find words to express themselves. The four men collectively hesitate in a state of “fractured togetherness.”
Stan’s debilitating injuries exemplify how working-class disillusionment can effectively destroy individuals and radiate outward to affect innocent people in the community. His fate also shows the dangers of reacting to other people’s attempts to better themselves with resentment rather than support, and of letting one’s anger manifest in racial animosity. All of these factors are what collectively drove Jason and Chris to commit the assault that hurt Oscar and changed Stan’s life. The play ends on an optimistic note, however: having followed Evan’s advice to begin forgiving themselves and each other, Jason and Chris are taking an important and courageous step to make amends with Oscar and Stan. Although the scene ends in an ambivalent state of “fractured togetherness,” it leaves audiences with hope that disenchantment, bitterness, racism, and self-blame aren’t insurmountable problems—ordinary people like Sweat’s characters can prevail over their circumstances and their mistakes.
Themes
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
Economic Strain and Race Relations Theme Icon
Shame, Regret, and Forgiveness Theme Icon