Delia is a washerwoman who works long hours in a small Central Florida village. Her husband Sykes does not work, yet he resents that Delia cleans "white folks'" clothes in their home. Sykes scares his wife of fifteen years by using her fear of snakes. The marriage is an abusive one, ever since Sykes began beating Delia two months after marrying. Observers in the town remark how the once-beautiful Delia has lost her shine because of her abusive husband. With that said, Delia has come to the conclusion that she does not need Sykes nor his abuse, particularly considering it is her wages that paid for their home.
Tired of Delia and seeking out freedom with his "portly" mistress Bertha, Sykes hatches a plan to poison Delia by planting a rattlesnake in her washing clothes. In a bit of karmic fate, however, it is Sykes who is poisoned by the rattlesnake, fatally, in the neck. In response, Delia sits meditatively below a chinaberry tree waiting for her husband to expire, and ignoring his pleas for aid.