Sweat

by

Lynn Nottage

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Oscar Character Analysis

Oscar is a young Colombian American man; he’s the busboy at the bar in Reading, Pennsylvania, where most of the play’s scenes takes place. In 2000, as the only Latinx character in the story, 22-year-old Oscar is viewed as an outsider and ignored by the white customers who frequent the bar. Though Oscar is a “quiet but alert presence” in the background of nearly all the play’s dialogue and action, he’s usually only acknowledged by Stan, the bartender. However, as economic downturn hits Reading and tensions rise, people become increasingly hostile toward Oscar: Tracey, a longtime employee at Olstead’s Steel Tubing, is adamant that Latinx people aren’t welcome at Olstead’s or in Reading. When Olstead’s institutes a lockout and Oscar becomes a temporary laborer at the plant, Tracey and her friend Jessie hurl racist slurs and comments about Mexican immigrants at Oscar, despite the fact that he’s Colombian and was born in Berks County just like they were. Oscar’s father was similarly disrespected when he was a janitor at another local mill, so Oscar feels no loyalty to the white working class of Reading who’ve always looked down on him and his family. The racism Oscar faces culminates in Tracey’s son Jason and his friend Chris (who’ve also been locked out of Olstead’s) assaulting Oscar—and, in the process, accidentally hitting Stan and leaving him permanently disabled with a traumatic brain injury. Eight years later, Oscar has become the manager of the bar and looks after Stan, who now works as a busboy. He seems open to forgiving Jason and Chris when they come to make amends after being released from prison. Oscar’s hard-won success conveys the hopeful message that minorities living in predominantly white, working-class communities can rise above discrimination and adversity to achieve upward mobility.

Oscar Quotes in Sweat

The Sweat quotes below are all either spoken by Oscar or refer to Oscar. 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 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:

TRACEY: […] It was back when if you worked with your hands people respected you for it. It was a gift. But now, there’s nothing on Penn. You go into buildings, the walls are covered over with sheetrock, the wood painted gray, or some ungodly color, and it just makes me sad. It makes me…whatever.

OSCAR: You okay?

TRACEY: Listen, that piece of paper you’re holding is an insult, it don’t mean anything, Olstead’s isn’t for you.

Related Characters: Tracey (speaker), Oscar (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Bar
Page Number: 49
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 5 Quotes

OSCAR: […] I keep asking for some good fortune. That’s it. A little bit of money. That’s it. My father, he swept up the floor in a factory like Olstead’s—those fuckas wouldn’t even give him a union card. But he woke up every morning at four A.M. because he wanted a job in the steel factory, it was the American way, so he swept fucking floors thinking, “One day they’ll let me in.” I know how he feels, people come in here every day. They brush by me without seeing me. No: “Hello, Oscar.” If they don’t see me, I don’t need to see them.

Related Characters: Oscar (speaker), Stan
Related Symbols: The Bar
Page Number: 92
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:
Act 2, Scene 7 Quotes

EVAN: I’ve seen enough guys in your situation to know that over time it’s…it’s crippling. I’m not a therapist, I’m not the right dude to talk to about any of this. But what I do know, is that it’s not a productive emotion. Most folks think it’s the guilt or rage that destroys us in the end, but I know from experience that it’s shame that eats us away until we disappear. You put in your time. But look here, we been talking, and we can keep talking—but whatcha gonna do about where you’re at right now?

Related Characters: Evan (speaker), Jason, Chris, Oscar, Stan
Related Symbols: The Bar
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Sweat LitChart as a printable PDF.
Sweat PDF

Oscar Character Timeline in Sweat

The timeline below shows where the character Oscar 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
...happened twice, but Tracey laughingly retorts that the second time didn’t technically count. Just then, Oscar, the busboy, comes in and starts wiping down the bar. Cynthia gets up to leave,... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Economic Strain and Race Relations Theme Icon
...her own run-down house. Tracey says she’d hire someone else to burn hers. She asks Oscar who she should ask about this, since Puerto Ricans are burning things down all over... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
...fling insults like “cripple” and “gimp” at him. Cynthia orders her to calm down, and Oscar escorts Jessie to the bathroom. (full context)
Act 1, Scene 3
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
...$66 million into his own campaign. Jason and Chris stand at the bar, tipsy, while Oscar works and listens in the background. Jason shows Chris and Stan a photo of the... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 4
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
...but Brucie thinks it doesn’t matter because “they’ll all shit on us in the end.” Oscar enters and begins restocking the bar, listening in on the conversation. After some small talk,... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 5
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Economic Strain and Race Relations Theme Icon
...a record 617-point drop in the Dow Jones. Tracey is smoking outside the bar, and Oscar steps out to ask her for a cigarette. She denies him, and they get into... (full context)
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
Economic Strain and Race Relations Theme Icon
Changing the subject, Oscar notes the loud party in the bar, and Tracey informs him that they’re celebrating Cynthia’s... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Economic Strain and Race Relations Theme Icon
...that her family has been in Reading since the 1920s—“they built this town.” She tells Oscar that her grandfather was a German craftsman who was a talented woodworker and a respected... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 6
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
...bar, Stan prepares a gimlet for Jessie, who’s eyeing a birthday cake on the counter. Oscar plays a handheld video game behind the bar. Jessie tells Stan that Tracey and Cynthia... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
...and Tracey makes her promise to tell them if she hears anything definitive. She calls Oscar over to read Cynthia the job posting from the Latino Community Center. (full context)
Act 2, Scene 2
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
...large U.S. corporations develop more leadership opportunities for minority employees. In the bar, Stan and Oscar look on as Tracey, Chris, Jason, and Jessie yell at Cynthia, demanding to know what’s... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 5
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
...At the bar, Jessie is slumped over at a table while Stan checks inventory. When Oscar enters, Stan tells him he crossed a line and asks when he was going to... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Economic Strain and Race Relations Theme Icon
Stan offers to ask Howard about giving Oscar a raise, but Oscar tells him that Olstead’s is paying $11 per hour—$3 more than... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Just as Oscar goes to take some beer crates to the back, Tracey walks into the bar. She... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
Oscar walks back in, looking uncomfortably at Tracey. Tracey is immediately hostile, hurling racial slurs at... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 6
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
Economic Strain and Race Relations Theme Icon
...both drinks, and Tracey begins to tell a story about a mutual acquaintance just as Oscar walks in. When he and Tracey see each other, Oscar offers to come back another... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
Economic Strain and Race Relations Theme Icon
Chris and Stan try to calm Jason down, reasoning that the situation at Olstead’s isn’t Oscar’s fault—he’s only trying to make a living just like they are. But Tracey and Jessie... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
Economic Strain and Race Relations Theme Icon
Despite Chris’s pleas to let Oscar pass, Jason won’t back down—he doesn’t know why, but he can’t let Oscar walk out... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 7
Shame, Regret, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...been able to focus since running into Chris—he remembers the “blind fury” when he attacked Oscar and admits that he hasn’t been able to shake it since. Evan tells Jason that... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 8
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Economic Strain and Race Relations Theme Icon
Shame, Regret, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...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,... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment 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... (full context)