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Analyzing Sweat using literary theory


Your next essay will require that you write a minimum 4-5 page, 6-paragraph essay with a separate Works Cited page, accurately citing Lynn Nottage's play, Sweat. You will analyze Sweat using race/cultural, gender/feminist, and/or Marxist literary theory as a lens to guide your analysis.

In other words, your perspectives and ideas will be grounded in gender/feminist, Marxist, and/or race/cultural literary theory as your lens for interpreting the play.

As such, you will write an essay that will allow you to explore one of the essay prompts given below. For helpful hints and best practices for writing thesis statements, topic sentences, and ideas about Sweat, refer to your class assignments as well as the contextual materials, class readings, videos and other information provided on your Canvas "Weekly Topics & To Do" pages about Lynn Nottage and the play.

It’s also a good idea to keep in mind the thematic ideas in these materials and in the class announcements I've shared with you over the past weeks, as the information could shed some light on the play and issues that have surfaced around gender, class, race, and privilege.


Carefully and closely read the essay prompt you’ve selected to make sure you understand it. Underline/circle key words in the prompt, and prewrite/plan to help you shape a strong thesis and supporting topic sentences. Feel free to discuss your ideas, graphic organizer, and drafts with me by making a Zoom conference appointment. There is also online tutoring support available through the Learning Center (see left side bar.) You can earn up to 2.5 extra credit points (up to 5 pts total) for seeking the help of a tutor for this assignment. Remember that we are here to help.

Essay Prompts:

Choose one of the topics below for your essay. Use the ideas and questions in the essay prompt to help you formulate a thesis statement that is concentrated (focused), compelling (interesting), and complex (contains a “so what?”), and topic sentences that are supportive and relevant to your thesis idea. Some readers argue that gender/gender roles define the characters’ situations and circumstances in Sweat.

Why and how do the genders and the gender roles of the characters in Sweat determine their situations and circumstances in the play? How are the characters’ impacted and/or defined by gender/gender roles?

In your essay, consider what the play conveys about the role of gender and the extent to which gender impacts the characters in the play. Throughout Lynn Nottage’s play, we encounter characters divided by an “us” versus “them” mentality.

Essay Prompts

How is the “us” versus “them” mentality represented in the play? In other words, who represents "us" and who represents "them" as tensions heighten in Reading, Pennsylvania? How are the "us" versus "them" divisions in the play magnified, especially as the characters are faced with economic uncertainty and hardships?

Pay particular attention to the way in which capitalism and corporate greed impact the characters’ perceptions of themselves, each other, and their relationships. For her play, Sweat, Lynn Nottage created Black, White, and Latinx characters to reflect the racial and ethnic identities of Reading, Pennsylvania residents.

How do the characters' racial and ethnic backgrounds and identities impact their perspectives on the American dream?

In what way do the characters’ racial and ethnic backgrounds and identities affect their pursuit of the American dream?

In your essay, consider how race and ethnic identity play a role the characters' definition and pursuit of the American dream in the context of the play. Sweat is often seen as a play that is about the imbalance of power and privilege in American society.

Who do you think ultimately holds the privilege and power in this play, and how is this power and privilege used?

How do the events and characters in Sweat bring to light the way in which privilege and power affect working class individuals and communities? How are the characters impacted by their own privilege/power and the privilege/power of others?

In your essay, examine the role that privilege and power play in the lives of the working-class people and community struggling to survive this play? Evaluation:

Your final draft is worth up to 200 points and will be graded on the following. Use it as a final checklist prior to submitting your revised, edited, polished, and proofread final essay on Canvas:

an original and creative title for your essay an effective introduction with a developed grabber, transition idea, and thesis an original and clear thesis statement an effective conclusion that wraps up your main argument and leaves the reader with a lasting thought accurate and meaningful use of examples/details/specifics/quotes/etc.

from Lynn Nottage’s play, Sweat (2 quotes are needed per paragraphs) insightful and sophisticated analysis and explanations of your evidence (Show in-depth thinking! Do not spend too much time restating/summarizing what happens in the play.) development and completeness of your supporting ideas in a minimum of 4 body paragraphs (Be sure to explain your ideas/points fully.) unity of ideas (Stay focused on the “big idea” you’ve expressed in your thesis.

Also, always use the information, evidence, and analysis in your body paragraphs to support your ideas.) coherence (Ideas and information must all be linked/connected for a smooth flow. This also means transitioning and leading smoothly into your use of quotes.) organization (Be organized.

Your ideas and evidence should follow a logical organizational pattern. clarity of ideas and presentation (The way you use language, words, sentences, grammar, and so on should allow you to express clear ideas.), spelling, mechanics, grammar, sentence structure and variety, and formatting (Your essay should be error-free and should follow academic essay standards. Get help from a tutor, friend, parent, etc. to learn how to identify and correct your sentence-level weaknesses.

Also, follow required MLA guidelines.) a correct and accurate MLA Works Cited page (Use MLA format/standards—Review your notes and samples of Works Cited pages. Use the English Department Rhetoric handbook.)

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