Sweat

by

Lynn Nottage

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Cynthia Character Analysis

Cynthia is a middle-aged African American woman; she’s Chris’s mother and Brucie’s wife. In 2000, Cynthia and her best friends Tracey and Jessie have worked at Olstead’s Steel Tubing in Reading, Pennsylvania, for over 20 years. They spend most of their downtime in the local bar socializing with one another and with Stan, the bartender. Cynthia has been estranged from her husband, Brucie, since he got locked out of his textile mill and became addicted to drugs. This stress, along with the thankless hard labor she does on the floor at Olstead’s, leaves Cynthia fed up. She decides to apply for an open Warehouse Manager position at the plant, and she ends up getting the promotion. However, this only creates more stress and tension in Cynthia’s life: when Olstead’s institutes a lockout, Tracey, Jessie, Chris, and Jason resent Cynthia for being part of the management that’s put them out of work. Cynthia, like her son Chris, has deeply conflicted feelings: she’s guilty about betraying her friends and son, but she’s also been underappreciated and discriminated against for decades. To Cynthia, it would be a personal insult to walk away from the money and security that her newfound opportunity offers. However, when the play flashes forward to 2008, Cynthia is remorseful about her decision to keep the job, which she lost after Olstead’s ultimately shut down. Now, her decades-long friendships are permanently ruined, and she believes that her complicity as a manager during the lockout makes her responsible for the assault that Chris and Jason committed against Oscar, a temporary laborer at the plant. Headstrong and principled yet ashamed of her perceived failures, Cynthia’s character demonstrates the unfortunate ramifications that can arise from trying to get ahead in life.

Cynthia Quotes in Sweat

The Sweat quotes below are all either spoken by Cynthia or refer to Cynthia. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Theatre Communications Group edition of Sweat published in 2017.
Act 1, Scene 2 Quotes

CYNTHIA: […] let me tell you something, once he started messing with that dope, I don’t recognize the man. I know it’s tough out there, I understand. Yeah, yeah, yeah. He went through hell when his plant locked him out, I understand, but I can’t have it.

Related Characters: Cynthia (speaker), Brucie, Stan, Tracey
Related Symbols: The Bar
Page Number: 17-18
Explanation and Analysis:

STAN: Says he got wind that they were gonna cut back his line at the plant. Couldn’t handle the stress.

CYNTHIA: That rumor’s been flying around for months. Nobody’s going anywhere.

STAN: Okay, you keep telling yourself that, but you saw what happened over at Clemmons Technologies. No one saw that coming. Right? You could wake up tomorrow and all your jobs are in Mexico, whatever, it’s this NAFTA bullshit—

Related Characters: Stan (speaker), Cynthia (speaker), Freddy Brunner, Tracey
Related Symbols: The Bar
Page Number: 19-20
Explanation and Analysis:

CYNTHIA: Who knows? I might apply.

TRACEY: What?! Get outta here.

CYNTHIA: Why the hell not? I’ve got twenty-four years on the floor.

TRACEY: Well, I got you beat by two. Started in ’74, walked in straight outta high school. First and only job. Management is for them. Not us.

CYNTHIA: More money. More heat. More vacation. Less work. That’s all I need to know.

Related Characters: Cynthia (speaker), Tracey (speaker), Stan, Brucie
Related Symbols: The Bar
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 1, Scene 3 Quotes

JASON: […] But seriously, man, why didn’t you tell me?

CHRIS: Cuz—

JASON: Shit, I just kinda thought we’d retire and open a franchise together. We’re a team, you can’t leave!!

CHRIS: Yeah, I can.

JASON: What about me?

CHRIS: What about you?

JASON: You coulda told me.

CHRIS: Dude, it’s just something I gotta do.

Related Characters: Jason (speaker), Chris (speaker), Stan, Tracey, Cynthia
Related Symbols: The Bar
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 1, Scene 5 Quotes

TRACEY: […] I know the floor as good as Cynthia. I do. […] I betcha they wanted a minority. I’m not prejudice, but that’s how things are going these days. I got eyes. They get tax breaks or something. […] I’m not prejudice, I say, you are who you are, you know? I’m cool with everyone. But I mean…c’mon…you guys coming over here, you can get a job faster than—

OSCAR: I was born here.

TRACEY: Still…you weren’t born here, Berks.

OSCAR: Yeah, I was.

TRACEY: Yeah? Well, my family’s been here a long time. Since the twenties, okay? They built the house that I live in. They built this town.

Related Characters: Tracey (speaker), Oscar (speaker), Cynthia
Related Symbols: The Bar
Page Number: 48-49
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 1, Scene 6 Quotes

CYNTHIA: […] I don’t deserve the things you’ve been saying. You’ve always been cool. Be angry, but don’t make it about this…(Points to the skin on the back of her hand) Look at me, Tracey. You don’t want to go down that road, we’ve got too much history between us. You got a problem, you tell me to my face.

Related Characters: Cynthia (speaker), Tracey
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2, Scene 1 Quotes

CYNTHIA: […] You know after everything. I wanna say that…

(Cynthia fights back emotions.)

I’m sorry.

CHRIS: For what?

CYNTHIA: It’s just, I shoulda…

(Chris places his arms around Cynthia.)

CHRIS: C’mon. C’mon. I don't want this to be a big deal. Tell me about what’s been going on. You hear from the old gang? Tracey?

CYNTHIA: Fuck her. After what went down. We don’t really—

Related Characters: Cynthia (speaker), Chris (speaker), Tracey, Jason, Oscar
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2, Scene 3 Quotes

CYNTHIA: I’ve stood on that line, same line since I was nineteen. I’ve taken orders from idiots who were dangerous, or even worse, racist. But I stood on line, patiently waiting for a break. I don’t think you get it, but if I walk away, I’m giving up more than a job, I’m giving up all that time I spent standing on line waiting for one damn opportunity.

TRACEY: You want us to feel sorry for you?

CYNTHIA: …I didn’t expect you to understand, babe. You don’t know what it’s been like to walk in my shoes. I’ve absorbed a lotta shit over the years, but I worked hard to get off that floor. Call me selfish, I don’t care, call me whatever you need to call me, but remember, one of us has to be left standing to fight.

Related Characters: Cynthia (speaker), Tracey (speaker), Jessie
Related Symbols: The Bar
Page Number: 83
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Sweat LitChart as a printable PDF.
Sweat PDF

Cynthia Character Timeline in Sweat

The timeline below shows where the character Cynthia appears in Sweat. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, Scene 2
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
...Santana’s “Smooth” is playing on a jukebox as a rowdy celebration winds down. Longtime friends Cynthia and Tracey, both middle-aged women, are drunkenly dancing with each other. The bartender, Stan, smiles... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
Cynthia and Tracey tease Stan as they dance seductively, prodding him to join them. Stan resists,... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
...technically count. Just then, Oscar, the busboy, comes in and starts wiping down the bar. Cynthia gets up to leave, saying that she has an early shift at work, to which... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
...of people turned out for Tracey’s birthday party. Stan was hoping to see Brucie, but Cynthia reveals that she kicked Brucie out (again) after he stole all of her Christmas presents... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
...he was deep in debt, and he’d heard a rumor about cutbacks at the plant. Cynthia brushes off this rumor, but Stan warns that people’s jobs could be outsourced to Mexico... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Economic Strain and Race Relations Theme Icon
...illegal to burn your own house down. Stan thinks it’s legal with a permit, and Cynthia sarcastically says that she should set fire to her own run-down house. Tracey says she’d... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
...if she calls, which provokes Jessie to fling insults like “cripple” and “gimp” at him. Cynthia orders her to calm down, and Oscar escorts Jessie to the bathroom. (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
With Jessie gone, Cynthia tells Tracey she needs to talk to Jessie about her drinking problem—Jessie keeps showing up... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
...ever promoted straight off the floor during Stan’s 28 years at the mill, either. Still, Cynthia thinks she may as well apply, and Stan agrees that the worst that could happen... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
Suddenly, they hear a drunken commotion from the bathroom, and Cynthia and Tracey agree that Jessie is dragging them down even though they love her. They... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 4
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
Just then, Cynthia, Tracey, and Jessie enter the bar. Cynthia and Brucie have a tense exchange, and Tracey... (full context)
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
Shame, Regret, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
The conversation then turns to the promotion to Warehouse Supervisor that Cynthia and Tracey are both going for. Brucie offends Cynthia with a joke that Olstead’s must... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 5
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
Economic Strain and Race Relations Theme Icon
...Oscar notes the loud party in the bar, and Tracey informs him that they’re celebrating Cynthia’s recent promotion. She tells Oscar that she’s just as qualified as Cynthia is and that... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 6
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
...Oscar plays a handheld video game behind the bar. Jessie tells Stan that Tracey and Cynthia were supposed to meet her here an hour ago. Stan asks if something is going... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
Jessie says she’s sick of being stuck in the middle between Tracey and Cynthia; she gives up on waiting and asks Stan to get a knife for the cake.... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
...must feel great to be a manager after so many years on the floor, and Cynthia confirms that it is—she has an office with a computer, and she no longer has... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Shame, Regret, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Chris comments on how professionally Cynthia is dressed, and Cynthia and Jessie reminisce about how they looked when they first started... (full context)
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
...then, Tracey rushes into the bar and announces that the party can begin. She and Cynthia get into a spat about how late she is, and Tracey brushes Jessie off when... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
Tracey admits that she’s hurt because Cynthia is rubbing elbows with management while ignoring Tracey on the floor. Cynthia understands, but she... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 7
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
...Chris if his mom is inside. Chris says she isn’t and tells Brucie to give Cynthia some space. Then, Brucie begs Chris for money until he hands over $10. Chris and... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 1
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Shame, Regret, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
The scene switches to Chris, who’s come to visit Cynthia at her barren apartment. Chris asks when she moved, and Cynthia (who’s wearing a maintenance... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
Shame, Regret, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Changing the subject, Cynthia invites Chris to sit down and relax, and they each comment on how different the... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 2
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
...the bar, Stan and Oscar look on as Tracey, Chris, Jason, and Jessie yell at Cynthia, demanding to know what’s going on. Cynthia pleads with them to stop shouting and says... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Economic Strain and Race Relations Theme Icon
Cynthia reluctantly reveals that Olstead’s is going to renegotiate the floor workers’ contracts, and they’re prepared... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
...and Chris try to reassure the others that the union will fight for them, but Cynthia counters that the union can’t bring the machines (which she believes were sent to Mexico)... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
Cynthia goes on to break down what’s going to happen: floor workers will take a 60-percent... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 3
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
Shame, Regret, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...In the news, Republican presidential candidate George Bush begins a campaign trail across the Midwest. Cynthia, sitting alone at a table in the bar, tells Stan she’d rather be on a... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
Shame, Regret, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Cynthia wonders if the plant gave her the promotion on purpose so that she’d have to... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Sensing how distraught Cynthia is, Stan reassures her that it’s not her fault—many of Stan’s customers are in Cynthia’s... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
Just then, Tracey and Jessie enter the bar. The mood immediately darkens; Tracey accuses Cynthia of being a traitor, and Jessie asks Cynthia how it feels to betray her friends.... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
Still, Tracey refuses to hear Cynthia out and scoffs at the idea of taking the deal. She tells Cynthia about the... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
Economic Strain and Race Relations Theme Icon
Tracey begins to reminisce about their trip to Atlantic City with Brucie and Hank for Cynthia’s 25th birthday, when a drunken Cynthia viciously dug her nails into the fake breasts of... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 4
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Economic Strain and Race Relations Theme Icon
...to have found his father, Chris asks where Brucie has been. He tells Brucie that Cynthia is worried and that he needs to pull himself together. Brucie tells Chris and Jason... (full context)
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
...to enroll at school this semester because he can’t afford the tuition. Brucie asks what Cynthia thinks about this, but Chris says that his relationship with her is strained right now. (full context)