Portrayals of Domestic Abuse and Passive Resistance in “Sweat” 12th Grade

Zora Neale Hurston’s short story “Sweat,” published in 1926, focuses on Delia and Sykes Jones and their volatile marriage. The protagonist, Delia Jones, suffers at the hands of her abusive husband, the antagonist, Sykes. In her work, Hurston discusses the various forms in which domestic abuse manifests itself. Abuse is not exclusive to physical violence; rather, abuse may take the form of emotional manipulation and degradation. Though Delia is a victim of both Sykes’s physical and emotional abuse, Hurston ultimately uses her character to demonstrate a sense of female power and righteousness. When Sykes is ironically killed as the result of his abusive nature, Hurston creates a space to explore the exertion of feminine power in the form of passive resistance. It may be argued that Delia’s character exemplifies the constraints on female autonomy in the institution of marriage and showcases the passive expression of resistance that must be used to exert power in such a confined position.

The short story begins with what could be interpreted as a playful joke between husband and wife. Delia is busy with laundry when Sykes sneaks up and plays a prank on her. He tosses a bull whip around Delia’s shoulders, and she mistakes the whip,...

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