Sweat Essay Questions

Essay Questions

  1. 1

    How do key symbols represent gender roles and expectations in the story?

    The snake that Delia fears and Sykes loves is a manifestation of patriarchal power in the form of a phallic symbol. The snake is used to maintain control within the domestic sphere because Sykes cannot take back power from Delia. Sykes is presented as an emasculated man because he is unable to hold a job or repress Delia's confidence or the economic stability that she gains from doing laundry for a living. In the same way that the snake is a source of power for Sykes, Delia's job is a source of power and a way for her to escape the imposing nature of Sykes and the restricting condition of domesticity. Hurston purposefully transcends gender stereotyping by domesticating Sykes and using a domestic chore, i.e. laundry as a way for Delia to regain independence and power.

  2. 2

    How is Delia's body represented in the text?

    Hurston describes Delia as 'meek' and 'poor' especially in comparison to Sykes who wields the power within the household. Delia is further made a subject by white men lingering on a porch as they remark that her physical body is undesirable to the point of her being ruined. Though she is often ridiculed and oppressed because she is a woman and appears 'meek', Delia's strength and body are what give her power. Her body allows her to work and her sweat is ultimately the source of power that allows her to escape the house and survive while Sykes' superiority complex is what causes his downfall. Hurston empowers women and the bodies of women by glorifying a black woman's labor and challenging the necessity of the male gaze as a source of power.

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