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Zora Neale Hurston's

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In Zora Neale Hurston's short story, Sweat, Delia finds herself stuck in an unbearable marriage. Her husband, Sykes, mistreats her, leaves all work to her, and is unfaithful. After being married to Sykes for 15 years, Delia has lost all hope in the marriage. The countless beatings and painful acts of Sykes have brought her over the edge. She is forced to go against her strict religious beliefs because of the life in which she has been leading since her matrimony to her husband. One passage that sums up many factions of Delia and Sykes's relationship is as follows:

"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. She had brought love to the union and he had brought a longing after the flesh. Two months after the wedding, he had given her the first brutal beating. She had the memory of his numerous trips to Orlando with all of his wages when he had returned to her penniless, even before the first year had passed. She was young and soft then, but now she thought of her knotty, muscles limbs, her harsh knuckly hands, and drew herself up into an unhappy little ball in the middle of the big feather bed. Too late now to hope for love, even if it were not Bertha it would be someone else. This case differed from the others only in that she was bolder than the others. Too late for everything except her little home. She had built it for her old days, and planted one by one the trees and flowers there. It was lovely to her, lovely." (Hurston 680).

This scene occurs when Delia is lying on her bed, thinking of what had just previously happened. Sykes had gotten home, and as usual, a fight erupted between the two former lovers. The difference about this confrontation though, was that Sykes did not strike Delia, as what usually happens. Delia picked up a metal skillet and threatened to defend herself from her husband as he cowed in fear of being hit. This new approach from Delia, involving a new intimidation, shows how her unnecessary sweat and hard work had gotten to be too much. The act of seizing a skillet from the stove to protect herself symbolizes how in essence, Delia is trying to defend her home. The skillet is a fragment of the house, and as she stands in her shielding stance, she is using her home to protect her home.

Delia is aware of Sykes's plans to take the house from her and use it for himself and his mistress Bertha, and she refuses to let that happen. With rage and anger towards her husband, Delia states, "That ole snaggle-tooth black woman you runnin' with ain't comin' heah to pile up on mah sweat and blood. You ain't paid for nothin' on this place, and Ah'm gointer stay right heah till Ah'm toted out foot foremost." (Hurston 680). Her home is all Delia has. She worked hard for years and years to build and maintain the house she loves, and the last thing she will ever allow to happen is for someone to take that away from her.

As she lies on her bed, Delia gains a moment of comfort, and a getaway from her great disdain. She is able to create a spiritual barrier from the mistreatments she receives from her unscrupulous husband. The bed is her Eden, her only resource for relaxation and a content being. Even the hamper in the bedroom is the only group of clothing that is considered neat and tidy, representing the cleanliness of the room. Everywhere else in the house, Sykes would step on and trample over the clothing Delia had to clean. He had no respect for his wife and her work. The bedroom used to be the only place that hadn't been defiled by Sykes, until he slept with Bertha in it. Knowing of this travesty brings Delia over the edge.

Sykes's physical cruelty and unfaithfulness go together, and are apparent not only to the one's involved, but outsiders as well. A group of village men sitting on a porch view Delia riding by and begin talking about her and her marital situation. One man talks of Delia's hard work ethics and ability to carry and receive clothing every Saturday. Her hard work is evident and because of it others admire her. After talking about the good qualities of Delia, the men begin a conversation about the countless bad qualities of Sykes. Speaking of Delia's necessary work, one man says, "She better if she wanter eat...Syke Jones ain't wuth de shot an' powder hit would tek tuh kill 'em. Not to huh he ain't" (Hurston 681). The speaker's tone can be taken as suggesting that Sykes deserves to die. Later in the conversation, the old man of the group says, "he done got too beggety to live - an' we oughter kill 'im" (Hurston 682). Coming from an elder, the statement seems to have more credibility. The mentioning of killing Sykes foreshadows the conclusion of the book when his death is imminent. The men would believe Sykes would be getting what he deserves, as perhaps Delia tends to believe more and more as the story progresses.

Delia changes from being constantly frightened of Sykes to being indifferent to his actions. She stops caring about Sykes's physical abuse and affairs with other women. What had once been love was now "drowned in the salty stream that had been pressed from her heart. Her tears, her sweat, her blood." (Hurston 680). This river of torment that has overrun this devastated woman has caused her to explode to the surface and take a stand. No longer will she allow herself to be at the butt of the severe poor mistreatment her husband has been giving forth to her for 15 years. She will not let him invade whatever will and life she has left in her.

Delia's Eden is sacred to her, but that does not stop Sykes from penetrating her bubble. In the beginning of the story when Sykes throws his bull whip at Delia, Hurston describes the whip as a "long, round, limp, and black" object. (Hurston 678). The whip can easily be initially mistaken for a snake, which foreshadows the arrival of the snake later in the story. Knowing of Delia's phobia of snakes, Sykes deliberately brings one into the house. This is one way in which Sykes has infiltrated Delia's concord with her home.

If Delia represents good, then Sykes represents evil, and could be seen as the Devil. Delia refers to both Sykes and the snake alike as devilish figures. Speaking about her husband, she states, "Whatever goes over the Devil's back, is got to come under his belly. Sometime or ruther." (Hurston 680). This statement goes along with the end of the story when Sykes's plan to murder his wife backfires. He gets what is coming to him.

When Delia wakes up the first morning of the story, she is woken



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