“Sweat” is a short story by Zora Neale Hurston, is a story about a woman who has to overcome her husband’s abuse, which takes place in central Florida, near Orlando. This story represents natural life combined with some heavy Christian symbolism which includes strength and karma. As the story begins the protagonist is introduced to the readers known as Delia, while she was washing her clothes as she was a wash-woman which represents the long history of female’s drudgery and it was especially true for an African-American woman who had to work for long hours in order to support their family. The race also plays a large role in this story as both Delia and Sykes are completely different in terms of their perception which could ultimately lead to conflicts among the couple. Despite the presence of white people in the story they still have some power over the characters and also their fate as Delia was able to buy herself a house due to money earned by washing white people’s clothes. Delia’s husband, Sykes hates her occupation as he refers to ‘Sabbath’ symbolizes evil as its something which is forbidden in Christianity as the following quote suggests “You ain’t nothing but a hypocrite. One of them amen-corner Christians — sing, whoop, and shout, then come home and wash white folks clothes on the Sabbath.”(Hurston 2) , as this quote also proves that the white people have some kind of power in this story
Many Christianity symbolism has been mentioned in “Sweat” such as the rattlesnake which resembles the death and this is the most potent symbol in the story. The rattlesnake was introduced when Sykes brought the snake into their house for solely the purpose of getting rid of his wife, Delia as she is known the fear of worms and snake. Sykes releases the snake from the box into the house believing that he has some kind of power over the snake which symbolizes the evil. Delia begs him to kill it but he leaves it in the house alone with her at the point which the snakes started to rattle vigorously and became hungrier. The following quote explains that Delia knew that Sykes will eventually taste his own medicine, “Oh well, whatever goes over the Devil’s back, is got to come under his belly. Sometimes or rather, Sykes, like everybody else, is gointer reap his sowing.” As Sykes works his way to his own destruction, the matchsticks also played a huge role in Sykes’s death as he had a habit of using up most of the matchsticks which produce light, as light symbolize goodness, so when Sykes returned home from Bertha’s place he couldn’t see anything as he is in total darkness which symbolizes evil, eradicates him.
The “Sweat” by Zora Neale Hurston can also be considered as a feminist fiction story where Delia works really hard as a wash-woman every day, she has built her own house with her hard earned money. Delia fought her way through a tough situation like her husband’s abuse towards her as he was the only person holding her back from her own goals and this situation represents her strong will to work hard in order to live a better life. The following quote shows that she is starting to take actions like standing up for herself, “Ah been married to you fur fifteen years, and Ah been takin’ in washin’ for fifteen years. Sweat, sweat, sweat.”(Hurston 2). One of the main symbols in the text was Delia’s sweat since sweat is the title of the story as it gives a significance, her sweat represents all the hard work she has done in the past 15 years.
In the religious aspect of the story, Sykes represent people those who defy the Gods, as he viewed himself above the Gods as he claims “this was his town and she could have it if she wanted it.” while bragging to Bertha. This story had an impact on both white and black which symbolizes darkness and light or even pure and evil. As the story suggests Delia a highly religious person, “Ah aint for no fuss t’night Sykes. Ah just come from taking sacrament at the church house.” as she makes an excuse to not to fight with Sykes. Both evil and good interplay in this story and in the end good triumphs over evil and thus Delia could escape from her husband.