the play sweat
For this paper, you must read the play Sweat, by Lynn Nottage (2015). The play is in your e-text under the “Plays” tab.
Lynn Nottage's Sweat addresses the economic downturn of the early 2000's through the eyes of steelworkers in Reading, Pennsylvania. In order to research this play, Nottage spent two years interviewing steelworkers in Reading, and the characters she created out of this experience are complex, with no one being presented as all good or all bad. The play has been praised for these characterizations, and recently won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
For this paper, I want you to analyze the play and its characters both aesthetically and ethically. Aesthetically, I will be asking you to compare this play to the criteria your book establishes for a work of Realism. Please note that I am not talking about the very general way that we use the word in our everyday life, but about the standards of a specific artistic outlook. Ethically, I am asking you to apply the Moral Foundations theory we discuss in class to at least two of the characters in the play.
To keep everyone on the same page for this assignment (and to streamline grading), I offer a format below for how I would like you to structure your essay. Keep in mind that you are still responsible for writing a cohesive paper that someone could read without knowing what I am asking and still understand it as a coherent whole. In other words, do not turn in a series of disjointed paragraphs that answer each of these prompts in order, but don't really "go together."
First paragraph: What do you think this play achieves? Do not focus on quality judgments–avoid words like “masterpiece” or “groundbreaking,” and do not tell me whether you liked the play or not. The purpose of analysis is not to judge a play as good or bad, but to understand it. Focus instead on the author’s “aesthetic intent,” as your book describes. What do you think the playwright hoped to achieve by combining this issue with this style? Within this paragraph–preferably at the beginning or the end–you will need to introduce your thesis statement for the paper as a whole.
Second paragraph: How is this play a contemporary example of Realism? Use the criteria for Realism established in Chapter 8 of your textbook to frame your answer. (Be aware that if you draw on other unsourced definitions of realism, you will lose significant points). Relate those criteria to how Nottage created this play.
Third and Fourth Paragraphs: I want you to take two characters from the play and analyze their motivations from an ethical point of view. What moral foundations influence their actions? What is the concept of justice that informs their actions? How do they present their point of view to one another when they disagree? That is, do they appeal to loyalty, to fairness, to the harm principle, etc.? Where do you see their stated ethical commitments at odds with their actions?
I suggest that for this portion of the paper, you focus one paragraph each around the characters you are analyzing. You should be drawing directly on quotations and specific examples from the play. Because this play is a course text, you do not need a Works Cited list; however, when you quote from the play itself, you should include a page number in parentheses at the end of the quotation.
Fifth Paragraph: This paragraph is your conclusion. You should focus it on the questions you have raised throughout the paper and how they support or complicate your thesis. A productive avenue here might be to consider whether or not you think Nottage’s play is successful in achieving her aesthetic intent. Remember that this is still not a judgment of whether the play is “good” or “bad,” but is instead an opportunity to analyze your own response to the play as a reader and to assess to what degree that matches Nottage’s intent.
Your paper must be a minimum of 1000 words.
The paper is due by 11:59 pm Monday, November 14.