Gender in Sweat by Zora Neale Hurston College

The short story “Sweat” by Zora Neale Hurston details the finer points of the abusive relationship and failing marriage of Delia and Sykes Jones. Hurston presents Delia as a hardworking woman and a faithful wife, but the same cannot be said of Sykes’ character. Sykes has no recognizable redeeming qualities. He is neither hardworking nor faithful, and be both physically and emotionally abuses his wife. Throughout the timespan of the short story, readers see the witness the relationship between Delia and Sykes escalate to a fitting but unexpected climax. Hurston uses “Sweat” as a channel through which she examines gender inequality and criticizes the oppression of females in the institution of marriage.

In order to immediately set the standard for the relationship between Delia and Sykes, Hurston begins her short story with an account of an interaction between the couple. Having been working all morning long on her day off, Delia, being so caught up in her work, did not notice her husband when he approached. She also did not notice that what Sykes had placed on her shoulders was a bull whip rather than a snake, as she had immediately perceived. It seems as though Sykes had a prior knowledge of Delia’s fear of snakes, and it can...

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