Zora Neale Hurston’s short story "Sweat" is a remarkable sentimental account of the life of Delia, a middle aged woman who leads a sad life. The story’s setting is the beginning of the twentieth century and it explains Delia’s sorry existence. As an African American woman, Delia has no just claim to anything worthy, and she is a poor laundry woman. The poor fate of African Americans well exemplified in Dubois’s book “On Being Black”. Simply put, it was impossible for a black person to advance in life. “I enter the free field of science. Every laboratory door is closed and no endowments are available. I seek the universal mistress, Art; the studio door is locked. I write literature. "We cannot publish stories of colored folk of that type." (Dubois, n.d.). Delia is married to Sykes, a rotten amorous man. The story “Sweat” as will be reviewed in this paper is marked by the themes of suffering and divine vindication.
Delia’s life is a testimony of suffering. Unfortunately, it was the fate of most African American women during her time. She did the laundry for White people in order to earn her keep (Williams, n.d.b). Her life was laborious and monotonous as she rode her pony to collect and deliver laundry. However, Sykes is more tormenting than her immense workload. He jeers her and is not the least appreciative of Delia. Delia humbly withstands the insults and beatings from her husband. In one instance, Sykes disarranges the laundry just to spite his wife. It is too unbearable for Delia. After fifteen years of silence and suffering Delia confronts Sykes. She summarizes her marriage as one of “Sweat, sweat, sweat! Work and sweat, cry and sweat, pray and sweat!" (Williams, n.d.b). Apparently Delia pays for the house and the food. Sykes spends all his earnings on alcohol and other women. Delia has had enough and she expresses he anger. Sykes leaves the house but is unmoved. He continues to have an open affair with Bertha. This affair is flaunted to Delia as Bertha is courted by Sykes in broad daylight. Bertha has the audacity to get Sykes from their home. Delia does not leave and is resigned to a miserable marriage. As a Christian, she derives strength from prayer. The suffering in “Sweat” is likened to God’s judgment after the fall of Adam and Eve in the biblical Garden of Eden. Just like Delia, man was supposed to labor and toil on the earth (Williams, n.d.a). Similar suffering by African American women is depicted by Janie Crawford, the heroine of the book, Their Eyes Were Watching God (Cengage Learning, 2012).
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The men in the village are no different from Sykes and they ridicule Delia. Jim and Elijah feel that Sykes should leave Delia because they find her fat and ugly. Clarke likens Delia to sugarcane. Fifteen years back she was a beauty and could be likened to fresh juicy sugarcane. Life had dwelt her a terrible blow in form of hard labor and a bad marriage. Clarke had squeezed every drop of pleasure and Delia could be likened to sugarcane chew. After tiring of her, Sykes had cast her away like sugarcane chew. The worst blow in her marriage was when Sykes brought a snake to their home. Delia was scared out of her wits, and it was a strategy to drive her out of the house (Williams, n.d.b).
There is an ironic twist of events as Sykes is bitten by the snake. This is a manifestation of divine vindication. Delia was a good woman, and she was continuously subjected to cruelties by Sykes. According to Christian teachings, any wronged individual should not take any action towards the opponent. Instead, the Lord will vindicate on behalf of the wronged party. This holds true in the case of Sykes. He brought the rattlesnake to scare and poison Delia. As fate would have it, Sykes is bitten on the head. “He crept an inch or two toward her, all that he was able, and she saw his horribly swollen neck and his one open eye shining with hope…. Orlando with its doctors was too far.”
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