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"Sweat" Zora Neale Hurston Empty "Sweat" Zora Neale Hurston

Post  Admin on December 1st 2008, 12:36 pm

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Zora Neale Hurston

Narrative Strategy in Hurston's "Sweat"

by Rachel Miller

The narrative strategy and point of view in Zora Neale Hurston's "Sweat" mold the reader's understanding of the story. They craft the personalities of both Delia and Sykes as well as developing their relationship. The choice of a third person omniscient narrator charges the story with more brutal honesty than would any other type of narration. The scene where the village men discuss Sykes and Delia holds relevance as a narrative tool and explores an alternative point of view to the narrator.

The narrator draws the character sketches of both Sykes and Delia. Hurston lets us see their thoughts that allow her to develop their personalities rapidly and thoroughly. In a story of roughly only seven and a half pages Hurston manages to create vivid and complex characters. Much of this can be credited to her choice of narration. Long passages of narration mixed with the dialogue design a relationship fed on pain:

" She lay awake, gazing upon the debris that cluttered their matrimonial trail. Not an image left standing along the way. Anything like flowers had long ago been drowned in the salty stream that had been pressed from her heart. Her tears, her sweat, her blood" (1675).

Since the thoughts of Sykes and Delia are so different, a series of contrasts develops their relationship and personalities. Hurston's choice of narrator lends believability to the entire story and makes Delia's plight more extreme. If Delia were the one telling the story things would be quite different. The reader would not give her version of the story the same credibility he gives that of an outside narrator. It also makes the reader more sympathetic for Delia. A combination of what Delia feels and what Sykes does to her leads the reader to feel sympathetically towards her. This can be clearly seen with the addition of Bertha--the other woman in Sykes life. "Too late now to hope for love, even if it were not Bertha it would be someone else " (1675). What happens to her seems truthful and real which directs the reader's expected reaction to the story.

The scene where the men of the town discuss Delia and Sykes rounds the view of the characters. In this passage perhaps the most significant lines in the story can be found: "There's plenty men dat takes a wife lak dey do a joint uh sugarcane. It's round, juicy an' sweet when dey gits it. But dey squeeze an' grind, squeeze an' grind an' wring tell dey wring every drop uh pleasure dat's in'em out. When dey's satisfied dat dey is wrung dry, dey treats em jes lak dey do a cane chew. Dey throws em away" (1677). The reader's perception of the characters gains strength in this section. It also adds to the appearance of detatched and truthful narration.

All of the important facets of the story--the character development and their interactions, meaning, plot, symbolism--develop either directly or indirectly from the narration. All other aspects of the story rise from the skeleton of the narration and point of view. Hurston's choice of narration channels the entire story and guides the reader through his understanding of it.

The Role of Race in Zora Neale Hurston's "Sweat"

by William Resh

In 1926 the deep south of America was a place of racial division and gross inequality. It was a time that black men and women, although by law free, were not even considered to be human beings in the eyes of our country's elite class. Men were greeted as "boy" or "nigger" without a thought to equality of people. It was a time when black men were regularly sentenced to death for crimes against white people, but left to provide their own justice within the black community. A time of segregation, a time of hatred, this was the deep south in 1926 and this is the setting of "Sweat" by Zora Hurston.

Although it is not a prevalent subject throughout the story the state of race relations at that time is important. The white man was considered to many black men as the devil in disguise. The reason I allude to this subject is to show you, the reader, what mental anguish Delia Jones, the main character, was going through in this story. In addition to the constant torment of her husband, the fact that she supports the family by washing white people's clothes adds unneeded weight to her already heavy load.

White people are mentioned three times in the story. The first mention is when Delia's husband, Sykes, calls Delia a hypocrite for taking sacrament and washing the devil's ( white people's) clothes on the Sabbath. The second is made by Old Man Anderson when observing Sykes as being "too biggety to live" since a white woman showed him how to drive a car. The last and most telling illustration of the state of race relations of the time is when Delia threatens Sykes by saying she will find help from white people if he did not let up on his beatings. This threat was not taken idly by Sykes, in fact he seemed to cower from it at first. This encounter shows the overbearing tyranny of the white race at that time. When you read this story remember that, although the matter of race is not prevalent in the story, it is prevalent in the minds of the characters.

The Treatment of Women in "Sweat"

by Heather McVicker

In 1926 Zora Neale Hurston's short story called "Sweat" spoke out against the uncivil and unequal treatment of women especially in their marriages. Women, at this time, were expected to do domestic work and be obedient, loyal wives while the husband could do what he pleased. The short story "Sweat" is a portrayal of a woman who must endure terrible hardships to find a small bit of peace in her life. The main character, Delia Jones, survives years of her husband's cruel psychological and physical treatment in a community that does nothing to help her. Fortunately Sykes, her husband, is killed by a rattlesnake when his cruel joke abruptly turns on him. Delia plays a passive role in his death to have her revenge but many women at this time could do nothing to change their destinies created by the savage man.

In the very beginning of the story the reader witnesses a woman doing the domestic work not only for herself, but the entire community. Because she is a black woman, her line of work entails doing laundry for the white people. At this time there were relatively no job opportunities for women, especially if they were black. Delia must work everyday for what is obviously very little money just to be able to buy food and provide a roof over her head. Also, Sykes is very unsympathetic to her needs and he refuses to work leaving Delia with all the financial responsibilities. When he tries to instigate a fight with her, she says, " Looka heah, Sykes, you done gone too fur. Ah been married to you fur fifteen years and Ah been takin in washin for fifteen years. Sweat sweat, sweat! Work and sweat, cry and sweat, pray and sweat!" Delia has been pushed too far by an unfulfilling life of never-ending work and abuse. She finally speaks out against Sykes but sadly enough, most women never did.

Spousal abuse was not a familiar term in this time period either. Sykes beats Delia repeatedly and his threats such as " Don t give me no lip neither, else Ah' ll throw em out and put ma fist up side yo head to boot.," are familiar to her. Even the people of the community are aware of what is happening but, it was believed that what happened between a husband and a wife was personal; therefore no one helped. Sykes also publicly carries on an affair and no matter how devastating this is to Delia's pride she cannot get a divorce. Divorce was a very taboo topic and it would have been very hard for a woman to obtain legal separation especially if she was poor. In the end Delia does get revenge but by this time she can only hope for inner peace. When Delia is hiding in the barn from the rattlesnake, Hurston writes, " A period of introspection, a space of retrospection, then a mixture of both. Out of this an awful calm." Perhaps this is all Delia will ever find to soothe her soul.

Hurston's story revealed the disturbing role of women at a time when speaking out was unheard of. Her writing provided another step for women to fight against unfulfilling marriage roles and jobs. Her character, Delia Jones, shows the spectacular strength and bravery that women had to have to endure hell and find little peace.

Religious Symbolism in Zora Neale Hurston's "Sweat"

by Eric Moran

"Sweat" is a short story rich in moral and religious parallels. This story is about a common African- American working woman in the deep South and how she clings to her faith in God to see her through the hardships caused by her faithful and abusive husband. Throughout this story there is religious symbolism that characterizes Delia and Sykes Jones as two people on opposite ends of the moral spectrum yet bound by marital vows that have lost their meaning.

Delia Jones is a hard working woman who uses her faith in God to guide and protect her from her husband's relentless physical and emotional abuse. From the very beginning, Delia represents diligence in work, humbleness, and saintly virtue. This protagonist is depicted as physically feeble yet spiritually strong.

Diametrically opposite to Delia's character is her husband Sykes. Sykes Jones seems to oppose Delia in his every word and action. He is physically abusive toward his wife, non-virtuous in that he is adulterous, and he takes advantage of Delia's hard work by spending the money that she makes on his lover. While Sykes is physically strong and has no virtue or faith in God, Delia's strength lies in her religion and humble tolerance of her husband which proves, in the end, prevalent over his brute strength and abusive attitude.

Certain objects and situations in the story suggest the influence of religion. The white clothes Delia washes in the story are symbolic of her character. White represents her virtue and saintly tendencies as she humbly tolerates Sykes' torment. The religious association of snakes and evil is prevalent in two instances in this story. Sykes at one point uses a whip to scare Delia by rubbing it on her and making her think it was a snake. Also, later in the story, Sykes places a real snake just outside the door of their house for the sole purpose of scaring Delia. These two examples could be seen as a biblical allusion as in the story of Adam and Eve when Satan took the form of a snake. The symbolism of snakes in "Sweat" subtly and cleverly illustrates Sykes as being an evil antagonist character.

The pattern of good vs. evil in this story winds down to a well developed and adroit conclusion. Sykes' own abusive actions throughout the story wind up to be his downfall. In the end, when the snake that Sykes uses to scare Delia gets loose and bites him, the sun rises steadily during his dying process. This sun rise is symbolic of the virtue of Delia being victorious over all the negativity and evil that Sykes represents. When Sykes is dead, the sun has finally risen. The light of goodness shines in the celebration of evil's death.


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