“Sweat” by Zora Neale Hurston

Sweat by Zora Neale Hurston

In her art works, Hurston had tried to discuss issues that required reconsideration or increased pondering; the tribulations addressed were faced far back during the 19th century. Her works are enough to demonstrate the plight of women in their society at that time. The freedom of women was diminished. Most importantly, she uses the “Sweat” story to vividly express the level of oppression subjected to women at the time. As a way of strengthening the women stand, she uses Delia to portray a hardworking woman who receives scorn, spite and denied freedom. Equal to other stories, the author tries to tell the audience of the sufferings of women in the hands of that can be defined as male dominance. The paper seeks to explore the story, “Sweat” by referring to the writer as the subject and the way that he reveals the inequality, despise and humiliation of women in love affairs and mostly marriage.

The short story is comprised of two main characters: Delia and Sykes. They were husband and wife. In the story, Delia works as a washwoman to support the family, while her husband was jobless. Sykes is a womanizer and appears to be torturer to his wife. Delia has a snake phobia, which Sykes uses as her weakness to intimidate her (Hurston 10). Sykes is concerned of his personal interest. He spends a lot of time with his concubine, Bertha, instead of helping his wife in her day-to-day income earning. Delia lives in an abusive marriage. She realizes that her husband is cheating on her and therefore hates him even more than she did before. The people around her sympathize her and wish Sykes was dead. Sykes is a selfish man who comes late at night only to scare her wife with rattlesnake, which finally poisons him. This event marked the beginning of her freedom.

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Moreover, the author has used symbolism. The rattlesnake has been used to represent the evil and malice intentions of Sykes towards her wife. A clear indication of love then turned to hate. The piled clothing represents Delia’s hard work. Delia was a hardworking woman. A tolerant woman who is supportive, optimistic and wishes to achieve more than expected of a woman. The chinaberry tree symbolizes the source and sign of peace. She sat under the tree after her husband had been bitten by the snake (Hurston 27). It was her only place to gather back peace and forget the accident that occurred. As she sits under the tree she knew her freedom was on the way.

The themes in the story are clearly elaborated by the author. As the title suggests, “Sweat”, the story encompasses the struggles of a woman. Delia is an epitome of a hard-working woman who supports her husband. She had been loathed by her husband of her achievements since Sykes was jobless. Other themes touched in the story are domestic abuse, gender roles, love and hate and male dominance. Delia lives in suffering. Her marriage is characterized of torture, humiliation and physical abuse (Hurston 32). It is an unfaithful marriage as her husband cheats on her. The woman is expected to provide the family. This is well told by the story of Delia who works as a washwoman to support herself and her jobless husband. Therefore, it is crystal clear that there was no fairness in the responsibilities. The main question is: how does a woman wholly support a man who beats her (Burke 4). The effects of male dominance appeared to Delia in being overworked, tortured, hated and disrespected. Men, such as Sykes, thought that they had freedom to do whatever was good for them. For example, he cheated on her wife, punched her and even planned to kill her. Marriage comes out of love; however, the love they had to each other had no longer existed.

The issue of gender equity is also well-addressed by the author of “Sweat” and covered in her other story “A Rose of Emily”. Hurston uses both women as scapegoat to represent the suffering, tortured and disrespected woman of that time (Burke 6). In the story, “Sweat”, Delia is depicted as a hardworking woman who works as a washer to make the ends meet. More surprisingly, she works to support her jobless husband and the family. Any woman would expect her husband to respect and support her by all means, yet this had never happened in the story. Delia’s husband tortured and disrespected her by beating and being unfaithful to her. The two main characters have helped the author to show the relationship between the husband and wife within marriage institution.

Male dominance prevails in most of the author’s works. The male in the story believed to be stronger than their counterparts. However, the author also displays a woman as weak creature in that they needed strong and a controlling woman. In all the stories the women were married to strong men with whom they believed they would satisfy their emotional thirst for love. Love and hate have also been covered in Hurston’s work. The women got tortured in the name of love. In the story, Delia started to be beaten after two months of marriage (Diamond 116). It is undeniable that marriage came out of love. The author uses snake in the story to show malice, evil and hatred. Sykes, Delia’s husband uses a rattlesnake to mock and distress his wife. Stronger was his wife that despite her phobia towards snake he tolerated him. The same snake poisoned his husband. Hurston communicates the suffering of woman in the name of love. She describes her fellow women as oppressed, hated, despised and disrespected (Burke 8). It was quite shameful for Sykes cheating on her; it was the biggest betrayal to Delia.

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Love and hate is also a common theme addressed by Hurston in her artwork. She portrays a woman as a scapegoat of men anger. It is vivid that Delia received beating from her husband who once loved her but had changed to a hater. The woman is physically abused. She hated her husband though she could never show it. Here, love turned to hate. It was a necessary change, after all she had received physical and emotional torture from her husband. All women in her stories “Sweat”, “A Rose of Emily” and “The Yellow Wallpaper” suffers in the name of love (Diamond 117).

Male dominance and oppression are two themes that are correlated. The woman is the oppressed species in the stories “Sweat” “Yellow wallpaper” and “A rose of Emily”. Hurston allows the audience to see how women are suffering in the name of love. They suffer to extent of committing suicide. Emily commits suicide as a result of torture she could no longer persevere.

Domestic abuse is also a prominent theme throughout the stories. Many of the women in the stories suffered under marriages. In the “Sweat” story the author tells the audience that after two months of marriage Delia was being beaten (Hurston 37). Domestic violence has emerged as a vital theme in the story.  Unfortunately, she indicates that the cases are never reported. Many women suffer under the roof. Delia was receiving torture from her ungrateful husband, she never took any action to sue or report him to anyone (Diamond 119). It was so extreme that people started sympathizing after her husband started cheating. Her husband promised Bertha, her concubine of great gifts yet she hardly received anything from him. Sykes was only interested in his own sexual satisfaction. Under the theme of domestic violence, Hurston sees the women as the most afflicted species (Burke 12). Despite the hard work and tolerance the women received no love from their men. Domestic violence at the time was associated more to women than men.

Gender roles are as well encompassed in her work. Hurston uses Delia to portray a woman who assumes most of the house chores and the responsibility of family support. On the other hand, her husband who is expected to be the breadwinner of the family lives in a life of leisure. He spent most of his time in Bertha house and came back home at down. The gender responsibilities were then not fair (King 146). It was expected that the men provide for the family, which never happened in this story.

It is well evident that the author, being a woman, has an important message to communicate to the readers.  She had tried to receive the readers support on supporting hardworking women like Delia. The title of the story explores the plight of women and their achievements. Hurston uses the story to depict the predicaments, drawbacks and beliefs that are impeding woman to achieve their goals (Diamond 121). It is crystal clear from the story that Delia neither enjoyed her efforts nor the marriage she was in. In her pieces, Hurston has maneuvered to stand for a woman. She has expressed the need to support women in terms of love and material support.

The story, “Sweat”, is one of the great achievements of Hurston’s artwork in conveying her message to the reader. She had taken readers back few years ago probably with an aim of showing where we have come from. She has also helped trace back our poor beginning in terms of social life. The story tells of the struggle of a woman to win a space in the society. In his quest for support and respect of woman, she uses Delia to show how strong a woman can be if only supported. The story also covers the plight of women in the society. If Hurston’s aim was to capture moral support from the audience, she won it. The story insist on something very important to our society, that is, women deserve respect, empowerment, encouragement, equality and support for a better society.

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