Lynn Nottage

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Themes and Colors
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
Economic Strain and Race Relations Theme Icon
Shame, Regret, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Sweat, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Working-Class Disillusionment

Sweat is preceded by an excerpt from Langston Hughes’s “Let America Be America Again,” a poem that critiques the false promise of the American Dream and encourages poor and working-class Americans (among other marginalized groups) to rise up and “make America again”—essentially to “redeem” the oppression they’ve faced and the opportunities they’ve been cheated out of. However, Sweat’s cast of characters is anything but empowered: rather than resist the hand they’ve been dealt, they…

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Relationships, Status, and Resentment

The characters in Sweat have spent decades of their lives thanklessly laboring in Reading Pennsylvania’s local steel and textile mills amid poor working conditions, disrespectful management, and union disputes. To combat this constant strain and underappreciation, the members of Reading’s working-class community depend upon tight-knit relationships with one another as a means of stress relief, support, and fulfillment. However, several close relationships are challenged as characters try to pursue new opportunities and escape the very…

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Economic Strain and Race Relations

Sweat takes place in Reading, Pennsylvania, a Rust Belt city whose predominantly white and largely working-class population is deeply affected by the early-2000s decline in the manufacturing industry. As a community already steeped in tradition and resistant to outsiders, this downturn causes Reading’s white working class to become downright hostile toward black and Latinx people—even individuals they once called friends—because they believe minorities are stealing their jobs away. As such, the play shows how economic…

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Shame, Regret, and Forgiveness

Sweat’s cast of characters reads as distinctly human: none are wholly good nor wholly bad, and nearly all make mistakes that hurt themselves or their loved ones. The play alternates between the same characters in 2000 and 2008, a plot structure that allows the audience to see how these choice pan out over time—and the shame and guilt that characters feel in response to their actions, even eight years later. By showing how people…

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