Sweat

by

Lynn Nottage

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Jessie Character Analysis

Jessie is an Italian American woman in her forties; she’s a close friend and coworker of Tracey and Cynthia. In 2000, Jessie and her friends have worked at Olstead’s Steel Tubing in Reading, Pennsylvania for over 20 years. The women spend most of their downtime in the local bar socializing with one another and with Stan, the bartender. Having gone to work at Olstead’s straight out of high school and given up her dreams of traveling the world to keep working and get married, Jessie is now divorced and dissatisfied with her life. As a result, she’s seemingly developed a problem with alcohol abuse: she’s passed out drunk during many of the play’s scenes and even shows up to work reeking of vodka. Although Tracey and Cynthia feel that Jessie brings them down, they still love her—and Jessie loves and supports them in return, refusing to get caught in the middle of Tracey and Cynthia’s feud over Cynthia’s promotion. However, Jessie also has a dark side: when she’s drunk, she taunts Stan for being a “gimp” and joins Tracey in hurling racial slurs at Oscar, the bar’s Colombian American busboy. When the play flashes forward to 2008, Olstead’s has closed, and it’s never revealed what’s become of Jessie since. This lack of closure perhaps implies that people like Jessie—a blue-collar laborer who succumbs to stagnancy, despair, and addiction—unfortunately tend to end up forgotten by the companies they serve, by the American public, and even by their own loved ones.

Jessie Quotes in Sweat

The Sweat quotes below are all either spoken by Jessie or refer to Jessie. 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 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:
Act 2, Scene 6 Quotes

JASON: […] Eleven dollars an hour? No thank you. They’ll work us down to nothing if we let ‘em. “Jacking ain’t for softies!” But they know they can always find somebody willing to get their hands sweaty. And they’re right. There will always be someone who’ll step in, unless we say NO!

STAN: Look. Olstead is a prick. If he was here I wouldn’t stop you. In fact I’d hold him down for you to give him a proper beating, but Oscar…he’s another story.

[…]

JASON: […] All I’m saying is that he needs to understand the price of that dinner he’s putting on his table.

STAN (Shouts): What the fuck do you want him to do? Huh? It ain’t his fault. Talk to Olstead, his cronies. Fucking Wall Street. Oscar ain’t getting rich off your misery.

Related Characters: Jason (speaker), Stan (speaker), Oscar, Tracey, Jessie
Related Symbols: The Bar
Page Number: 101-102
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Sweat LitChart as a printable PDF.
Sweat PDF

Jessie Character Timeline in Sweat

The timeline below shows where the character Jessie 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
...with each other. The bartender, Stan, smiles as he watches on. Meanwhile, a woman named Jessie has passed out, face down, on a table. (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
...to join them. Stan resists, and the song ends, after which Stan asks who’s taking Jessie home. Tracey replies that Howard usually just closes up and leaves Jessie in the bar,... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
...If it weren’t for Freddy, Stan says, he would have lost his entire leg. Suddenly, Jessie wakes up and demands that Stan give her another drink, threatening to call her ex-husband... (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... (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 make snide comments about Jessie’s... (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 and Jessie encourage... (full context)
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
Shame, Regret, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...skeptical—though she does give into his smooth ploys for a kiss. This angers Tracey and Jessie, who yell at Brucie to either get clean or leave Cynthia alone. Brucie becomes emotional... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 6
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
...the city faces a $10 million deficit. At the bar, Stan prepares a gimlet for Jessie, who’s eyeing a birthday cake on the counter. Oscar plays a handheld video game behind... (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... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
...Chris and Jason burst into the bar, immediately infecting the room with energy. They wish Jessie a happy birthday, and Chris tells everyone that they just took a spin on Jason’s... (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 at Olstead’s: Cynthia had an Afro... (full context)
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
...She and Cynthia get into a spat about how late she is, and Tracey brushes Jessie off when Jessie asks if she’s okay. Jessie notes that the gathering suddenly doesn’t feel... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 2
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
...minority employees. In 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... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Economic Strain and Race Relations Theme Icon
...fired because they get paid the most, and Olstead’s can’t afford this “burden.” This outrages Jessie and the others, but Cynthia explains that due to NAFTA, Olstead’s could simply move the... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 3
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... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
Economic Strain and Race Relations Theme Icon
...friend Tracey misses—the friend who fought for what she loves. However, Cynthia tells Tracey and Jessie that she’s been taking orders from idiotic or racist supervisors since she was 19—now that... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 5
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
...a Reading electronics store to buy the new $350 Play Station 2. At the bar, Jessie is slumped over at a table while Stan checks inventory. When Oscar enters, Stan tells... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 6
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Economic Strain and Race Relations Theme Icon
...an increase on income tax. Chris and Jason burst into the bar, where a drunk Jessie is sitting at a table. Chris and Jason are riled up, and when Stan asks... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
Economic Strain and Race Relations Theme Icon
...bathroom and asks Jason to buy her a drink. Chris offers to pay instead, and Jessie rouses and asks for a drink as well. Stan pours both drinks, and Tracey begins... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
Economic Strain and Race Relations Theme Icon
...Oscar’s fault—he’s only trying to make a living just like they are. But Tracey and Jessie egg Jason on, and he maintains that he wants to set Oscar straight. Stan slams... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
Economic Strain and Race Relations Theme Icon
...fight ensues. Chris tries to break it up, but Oscar headbutts him, and Tracey and Jessie continue egging the situation on. Now angry, Chris puts Oscar in a headlock and beats... (full context)