Sweat

Themes

Domestic abuse
Sykes abuses Delia physically by beating her, economically by taking her income, and emotionally by putting her down for her body type. The story investigates the psychological effects of an abusive relationship.
During the post-civil war time period, black men in the rural south had few job opportunities while black women could find work in the domestic service industry.[3]  As seen in the story, Delia is the sole financial provider for the family and this makes Sykes' masculinity feel threatened.[4]Sykes understands that he needs his wife's money, so he resorts to physically harming Delia is order to help him feel powerful in a restrictive environment for black males. [5]

Empowerment and Survival

The working life versus the trifling life
The story's title "Sweat" refers to all the physical labor that Delia performs, which contrasts with Sykes' life of leisure and entitlement. The story does not refer to any job or income for Sykes, but he does somehow pay his mistress Bertha's rent, and he and his mistress even go on "stomps" -- probably dates at a nightclub.

Feminism

The historical back round presented during the time period when "Sweat" was published, represents a time when feminist art movements were taking place. "Sweat" was published in 1926 in a magazine named, "Fire". During the time it was published many African American artists were celebrating black culture and diversity in Harlem, NY. Zora Neal Hurston, an African American artist, wrote for black women, exposing their struggles with not only racism, but sexism as well. [6]Hurston was able to write feminist pieces that included novels, short stories, journals, and letters. This was more accessible and approachable for women. [7]

Hurston describes that women were denied equal opportunities and abused by men in "Sweat". The story portrays Delia as being as strong and as independent as a woman can be in her circumstance. She works hard to support herself and her husband, even in the difficult conditions she is faced with each and every day. [8] Much of Delia's sexuality and emotions are dominated by her husband Sykes though, as he abuses his power of being the dominant sex over Delia. He is a womanizer and abusive. Delia feels as though she cannot leave him though out of fear for her safety and out of guilt. Because of this, her husband has much of the control over Delia, male over female, compared to master over slave. [9]


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