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Lynn Nottage’s Sweat as a Tragedy for the Ethics of the Other

  • Journal of Modern English Drama
  • Abbr : JMBARD
  • 2022, 35(2), pp.55-85
  • Publisher : 한국현대영미드라마학회
  • Research Area : Humanities > English Language and Literature > English Literature > Contemporary English Drama
  • Received : July 15, 2022
  • Accepted : August 14, 2022
  • Published : August 31, 2022

Yujin Kim 1

1이화여자대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

Lynn Nottage’s Sweat (2014) depicts a socio-economic precarity of the contemporary world and the pain of the precariat, in particular, the workers in Reading, Pennsylvania, which has been one of the poorest regions in the US. As another piece of her “cosmopolitan” drama, Sweat does not thematize any top down “ism” or identity politics, but focuses on lived experiences of the people in pain and their solidarity from the grassroots level. However, what makes Sweat stand out is its genre, tragedy. Unlike Nottage’s former play, Ruined (2008), Sweat has no vestiges of melodrama with a happy ending, but articulates itself as a tragedy with the quintessential scapegoat. In this context, the present article reads Sweat as an example of contemporary tragedy and examines its historical aesthetics. With an unexpected character becoming the final scapegoat, the narrative of the play reveals the random nature of the tragedy that makes it possible for anyone to be sacrificed. However, when designing a retrospective plot structure, Nottage does not fixate on the tragedy but allows the audience to introspect what they have witnessed multiple times. Furthermore, with similarly repeating “face-to-face” scenes, the playwright demonstrates Emmanuel Levinas’ philosophy of the “Other,” which argues that the other person’s face reminds us of “otherness,” and commands us to cease our self-centered desire to objectify others and protect them from it. This resonates with the discourse on the ethics of the Other in the 21st century, where people facing such random tragedies may discover their own otherness through each other.

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