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Sweat by Zora Neale Hurston

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By Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston is a remarkable author who reflects her life in most of her novels, short stories, and her essays. She was a writer during the Harlem Renaissance, also known as “the new negro movement”, however; her writings were not given proper recognition at first because they were not of the “norm” for that time period. All of the authors during the Harlem Renaissance were expected to write about race with a political mind set. Hurston was tired of seeing the same writings just different authors so her literary works were very different and were meant to stand out (Trudell). Among all of her abstracts, Sweat was a story of determination and oppression, with religion and strength as the backbone of the story and seems to be one of the most captivating of all her works.

Hurston based her short story Sweat on two man characters, Delia Jones and Sykes Jones. Throughout the whole story Delia and Sykes both showed their determination. Delia was determined that she was not going to let Sykes get his way and break her down to the point that she was helpless and dependant upon him. She worked hard as a wash woman and was the sole money maker in the household. She grew more independent mentally as the story went on and the reader could tell this by the dialogue between Delia and Sykes and the description of Sykes reactions. For instance when they were arguing in the beginning of the story over Delia washing the clothes, it was said that, “she seized the iron skillet from the stove and struck a defensive pose, which act surprised him greatly coming from her. It cowed him and he did not strike her as he usually did” (Hurston). Hurston did this to show that over the fifteen years that Delia and Sykes had been married, this was the first time that she actually showed some courage and stood up to Sykes. Sykes was only determined to get Delia out of the house and out of his life so that he and his mistress Bertha could be together. He beat her because he felt he was of higher authority to do so. He used her fears to try and conquer her mind and soul and make her feel as though she was worth nothing. He flaunted his mistress around the town so bluntly as to show that he cared nothing about Delia or their marriage. He was the worst husband possible and did everything he could to disrespect and belittle his wife

In reading the story it is easy to see that Sykes becomes somewhat jealous of Delia. At first, he did all that he could to win Delia’s heart and keep it. As said by Walter Thomas, one of the minor characters in the story, “he useter be so skeered uh losin’ huh, she could make him do some parts of a husband’s duty” (Hurston 4). Yet somehow, Sykes falls out of love with Delia early in their marriage and that’s when his oppression over her began. He not only wears her down by beating her and ultimately changing her appearance, he also abuses her mentally. He resented not only the fact that Delia was the only one of the two that was financially stable within the household, but he mostly resented her job and the reality that she was comfortable with washing clothes for the “white folks”. Time and time again he tried everything in his power to make sure she didn’t finish her days work as a wash woman. For example he shows his disgust with her job when he comes home in the beginning of the story an sees his wife working, “he stepped roughly upon the whitest pile of things, kicking them helter-skelter as he crossed



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