Racism in Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” and “Sweat”

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According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, racism is “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” Racism has been present in almost every society throughout history. In Author Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God Hurston character’s experience and express racism to other characters. But, in the story “Sweat” racism is not as expressed fully like as the novel but it is more prevalent in the minds of the characters.

In the novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, racism is presented throughout the novel between the characters of different racial backgrounds. Mrs. Turner is a middle age woman mixed with black and white ethnicity, but she considers herself white. Mrs. Turner with a horrifying tone, “You got mo’ nerve than me. Ah jus’ couldn’t see mahself married to no black man. It’s too many black folks already. We oughta lighten up de race” (16.10). Mrs. Turner expresses her hatred and goes as far as to say that the black community should be killed. Doesn’t Mrs. Turner choice of words remind you of The Holocaust? On the other hand, the black workers express racism to the Native Americans.

“Everybody was talking about it [the coming hurricane] that night. But nobody was worried. The fire dance kept up till nearly dawn. The next day, more Indians moved east, unhurried but steady. Still a blue sky and fair weather. Beans running fine and prices good, so the Indians could be, must be, wrong. You couldn’t have a hurricane when you’re making seven and eight dollars a day picking beans. Indians are dumb anyhow, always were” (18.4).

The black workers verbally insult the Indians by calling them “dumb” even though the Indians were correct about the hurricane. Racism is shown by the characters through the way they attack people on their culture values and intellect.

Racism is not as prevalent in the story “Sweat” but it is dominate in the minds of the characters. Sykes is financially dependent on his wife Delia because he gambles his money away. Delia is in a difficult position because Sykes does not like the type of people she is working for. The case of race relations at that time is important because the white man was considered to many black men as the devil.

“Yeah, you just come from de church house on a Sunday night, but heah you is gone to work on them clothes. You ain’t nothin’ but a hypocrite. One of them amen-corner Christians—sing and whoop and shout; then come home and wash white folks’ clothes on the Sabbath’ (2).

Sykes calls Delia a hypocrite for washing the devil’s (white people) clothes on the Sabbath. Delia at this moment was going through a mental anguish. Plus, the repeated mental distress of her husband Sykes, added to the fact Delia supports the family by washing white people clothes adds unnecessary weight on her back.

Another showing of the case of race relations is when Delia threatens Sykes, “Ah’m goin’ tuh de white folks bout you, mah young man, de very nex’ time you lay yo’ han’s on me. Mah cup is done run ovah” (8). This threat was not taken lightly by Sykes, but he was a bit scared at first. This shows the unpleasantly cruelty of the white race at that time. The matter of race is not superior in the story, but it is superior in the minds of the characters.

Everyone views racism in their own ways and some people similar to others. Many people have that belief that one’s own race is superior to others. Hurston showed in the novel and the story that racism is expressed or perceived differently by the characters. Racism has been around since the start of civilizations and continues to be around today.


Cite this paper

Racism in Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” and “Sweat”. (2021, Jun 21). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/racism-in-hurstons-their-eyes-were-watching-god-and-sweat/



What does Hurston's tone reveal about the way she sees herself?
Hurston's tone is confident and self-assured, revealing that she has a positive view of herself.
What is Hurston's argument in How It Feels to Be Colored Me?
Hurston argues that race is a social construct and that it should not be used to divide people.
What is Hurston's attitude towards slavery?
In "Sweat", Hurston shows the terrible working conditions that slaves had to endure. She also shows how slaves were treated like animals, and how they were often beaten.
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