Sweat

by

Lynn Nottage

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The Bar Symbol Icon

The unnamed Reading, Pennsylvania, bar in which most of Sweat’s scenes take place symbolizes the disillusionment that the play’s working-class characters experience and the escapism they seek out as a result. The “lived-in and comfortable” bar at the center of the play is a meeting place that facilitates the similarly familiar and comforting friendships—like the decades-long bond between Tracey, Cynthia, and Jessie—that take place within it. In this way, the bar is both a literal and symbolic safe haven from the outside world—it’s the one place where characters can try to forget about work, speak their minds without fear of being reprimanded, and “stop complaining and have some fun.” Additionally, drinking alcohol tends to loosen people’s inhibitions and bring out underlying emotions—this is certainly the case for the bar’s customers, who often confide in bartender Stan about their financial strife, relationship woes, and broken dreams. In this way, the bar in which this drinking takes place represents the hardships of blue-collar life and the resultant need for emotional release, community support, and leisurely distraction.

As a multigenerational staple of Reading’s working class, the bar also represents tradition and the tendency for people to get stuck in the status quo. All of the play’s main characters were born and raised in town, and most of them (like previous generations) have worked at the local steel mill and frequented the bar in their downtime for decades—all the while feeling stuck in their jobs and in their lives. Stan reflects that “nostalgia is a disease,” and the bar, as a place where people both dwell on the past and fruitlessly dream about the future, symbolizes this idea. However, at the end of the story, Jason and Chris return to the bar after eight years in prison to find that it’s “refurbished, polished” and that Oscar, the former busboy, is now the manager. The fall of heavy industry and ensuing economic downturn that drives much of the play’s action changes everyone and everything in Reading, and the bar is no exception. But ultimately, its change in appearance and management in the aftermath of Sweat’s central crises represents the hopeful idea that communities doesn’t have to stay mired in the past—instead, they can (and should) respond to hard times with resilience and adaptation.

The Bar Quotes in Sweat

The Sweat quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Bar. 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 1 Quotes

CHRIS (Escalating emotions): I dunno. A couple minutes, and your whole life changes, that’s it. It’s gone. Every day I think about what if I hadn’t…You know…I run it and run it, a tape over and over again. What if. What if. What if. All night. In my head. I can’t turn it off. Reverend Duckett said, “Lean on God for forgiveness. Lean on God to find your way through the terrible storm.” I’m leaning into the wind, I’m fuckin’ leaning […] What we did was unforgiveable…

Related Characters: Chris (speaker), Evan, Jason
Related Symbols: The Bar
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:
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 4 Quotes

STAN: […] That’s when I knew, I was nobody to them. Nobody! Three generations of loyalty to the same company. This is America, right? You’d think that would mean something. They behave like you’re doing them a goddamn favor […] they don’t understand that human decency is at the core of everything. I been jacking all them years and I can count on my hand the number of times they said thank you. Management: look me in the eye, say “thank you” now and then. “Thanks, Stan, for coming in early and working on the weekend. Good job.” I loved my job. I was good at my job. Twenty-eight years jacking. And look at my leg! That’s what I get.

Related Characters: Stan (speaker), Brucie
Related Symbols: The Bar
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

BRUCIE: […] this old white cat, whatever, gets in my face, talking about how we took his job. We? […] He don’t know my biography. October 2nd, 1952, my father picked his last bale of cotton. He packed his razor and a Bible and headed North. Ten days later he had a job at Dixon’s Hosieries. He clawed his way up from the filth of the yard to Union Rep, fighting for fucking assholes just like this cat. So I don’t understand it. This damn blame game, I got enough of that in my marriage.

Related Characters: Brucie (speaker), Stan
Related Symbols: The Bar
Page Number: 37-38
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:

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 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 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

The Bar Symbol Timeline in Sweat

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Bar 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
...American families is widening, likely due to the booming stock market. At an old, cozy bar, Santana’s “Smooth” is playing on a jukebox as a rowdy celebration winds down. Longtime friends... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
...Jessie home. Tracey replies that Howard usually just closes up and leaves Jessie in the bar, yet somehow Jessie always makes it to work on time the next morning. They manage... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
...didn’t 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... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 3
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
...after having invested $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... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 4
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
...to open a 280,000-square-foot factory in Leesport, Pennsylvania. Brucie sits sipping a drink at the bar, where the Republican debate between Keyes, McCain, and Bush is playing in the background.  Stan... (full context)
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 Cynthia to ignore... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 5
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Economic Strain and Race Relations Theme Icon
...burst, causing 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... (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 recent promotion. She tells Oscar that she’s... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 6
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
...of Reading fires several employees as 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... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
...the office part of the plant before now. Suddenly, Chris and Jason burst into the bar, immediately infecting the room with energy. They wish Jessie a happy birthday, and Chris tells... (full context)
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
Just then, Tracey rushes into the bar and announces that the party can begin. She and Cynthia get into a spat about... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 7
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
...and takes measures to combat urban blight. As Chris and Jason rush out of the bar, Brucie (who’s smoking a cigarette outside) asks Chris if his mom is inside. Chris says... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 2
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
...school lunches. Several 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... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 3
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
Shame, Regret, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...begins a campaign trail across the Midwest. Cynthia, sitting alone at a table in the bar, tells Stan she’d rather be on a cruise on the Panama Canal. Stan replies that... (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... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
...or even to leave the house. She asks Cynthia why she even came to the bar, and Cynthia reminds Tracey that it’s her birthday. (full context)
Act 2, Scene 4
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Economic Strain and Race Relations Theme Icon
...farmworkers in Reading are killed in a car accident. Jason and Chris stumble into the bar, where Brucie is slumped over at a table, looking high. Relieved to have found his... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 5
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
...at 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... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Economic Strain and Race Relations Theme Icon
...him that Olstead’s is paying $11 per hour—$3 more than what he makes at the bar. Stan warns Oscar that he’s going to make enemies and that he’s helping to do... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
...as Oscar goes to take some beer crates to the back, Tracey walks into the bar. She orders a double vodka and updates Stan on the lockout: the union is offering... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 6
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Economic Strain and Race Relations Theme Icon
...Election Day; Reading proposes 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,... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
Economic Strain and Race Relations Theme Icon
...that he wants to set Oscar straight. Stan slams a baseball bat down on the bar, yelling at Jason to sit down, and Jason does. But then, Tracey makes a comment... (full context)
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
Economic Strain and Race Relations Theme Icon
...won’t back down—he doesn’t know why, but he can’t let Oscar walk out of the bar. Jason shoves Oscar and pushes Stan to the ground when he tries to intervene. Oscar... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 7
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Shame, Regret, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...and then visit Albright College the next day. He regrets not walking away from the bar. Now, he feels like people only look at him like a criminal. He prays for... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 8
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Economic Strain and Race Relations Theme Icon
Shame, Regret, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...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.... (full context)