Sweat Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Sweat Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

The Snake

The snake is a phallic symbol, thus representing men and masculinity as a whole. The snake is Sykes' manifestation of power because without it he has no control over Delia. In the end the snake kills Sykes suggesting that the nature of men will destroy them if they give in to authoritative desires. Furthermore, snakes are a biblical symbol of evil, by taking this into consideration it is evident that Hurston portrays masculinity and maliciousness in correlation with one another.

The Chinaberry Tree

The Chinaberry tree is where Delia goes to rest once she is finally free, “She could scarcely reach the Chinaberry tree, where she waited in the growing heat” (1030). The tree as a symbol of peace and freedom, both of which she can only reach once Sykes dies. Delia’s freedom exemplifies strength and resilience, while pinpointing the atrocities of a patriarchal culture. Without the tree, Delia has no place to rest after she has been empowered.

Light and Darkness

The notions of light and dark, represent two things in the text. Light is a symbol of purity, enlightenment, and optimism; this becomes clear as Delia is able to escape the darkness of the house and make it to freedom while Sykes is left trapped in the dark. Darkness also represents beauty and empowerment as Delia's dark complexion is what makes her so resilient and ultimately gives her power.

Femininity and Masculinity

It is evident that Delia exhibits power through her control of funds which she rightfully earns, but financial power does not protect her from the abuse of Sykes. There is a power play between the two, Sykes’ physicality and Delia’s resilience although it is clear that Sykes is dependent on Delia for support. Sykes’ dependence emasculates him and he feels as if he needs to exert his power in other ways.


Hurston’s Sweat is a short story that represents not only the constraints of a racially divided society but also, and more notably the oppression of women in a patriarchal society. Delia is a microcosm for women of the time, physically inferior, meek at times, but irrepressible no matter how demeaned she feels. Sweat as a feminist text delves into ideas of intersectionality, the oppression of women and African Americans, and presents an uplifting narrative of a way towards freedom.

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