Spiritual Roots in Zora Neale Hurston’s “Sweat”

Updated September 10, 2022

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Spiritual Roots in Zora Neale Hurston’s “Sweat” essay

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Spirituality is an important part of the African American culture and history. Dating back to slavery it has been reported that African Americans have been more associated with being a part of a religious belief. 80% of African Americans in the United States has reference religion to being the most important part of their life. Religion is important in the African American culture because it gives a sense of hope and salvation from the known and unknown. Religion evolved during slavery when African Americans ancestors believed that prayer and worship to God would change their circumstances. Zora Neale Hurston from the 1920s often capture this form of spiritual representation in her stories.

In her most famous story: “Sweat” Zora painted the prefect picture of the significance of religion in the African American culture. The story was about the typical American family in the early 1900s. The wife Delia Jones was a Christian woman who endured many hardships brought on by her race, society and husband. Delia depended solely on her religion to get her through these hardships. Sykes who was Delia husband shared the same beliefs but was characterize as a hypocrite because of his devious ways and harsh treatments towards his wife Delia.

Zora starts the story off by describing the harmful joke Sykes played on Delia. Delia was doing her Sunday morning after church routine when Sykes threw a long, round, limp black bullwhip on her shoulders pretending it was a snake. Delia was terrified of snakes and Sykes did it to intentionally torment her. The snake is a symbol of evil. In the Christian bible it represents the root of evil in the story The Garden of Eden. The snake is reference again later in the story as “that ol scratch.” Scratch is the nickname for the devil which is a common antagonist in the African American religion. In this story the devil is reference as the snake. Delia told her husband he had no business playing that joke on her and it was a sin to do such.

Sin in the African American religion is anything that goes against the divine law. Zora showed that Sykes was equally religious by talking about how he lashed back at Delia for working on Sabbath day. Sabbath is a sacred day used to celebrate and worship spiritual figures. Studies have shown that more than half of African Americans report attending religious events at least once a week. Normally the days designated for attendance is the Sabbath Day. In one part of the story Delia says out loud, “Whatever goes over the devils back got to come under his belly. Sometime or Ruther, Sykes, like everyone else, is goiter reap his sowing.” Zora stated that after that she was able to build a spiritual earthwork against her husband. This symbolized the praying for others and praying to a higher power for change. In African American Culture praying provides a feeling of hopefulness that’s possessed in religious beliefs.

As the store progresses Zora talk about the many sinful acts that Sykes committed. One of the primary sins that Sykes committed was adultery. The Christian bible speaks about adultery being one of the dominant sins. The old men talked about Sykes committing this sin and taking him and his adulteress down in the lake and punishing them. Zora uses metaphors to describe Delia experiences throughout the story. She talked about how Delia crawled over the earth in Gethsemane and up the rocks of Calvary. The land marks mentioned are symbols of spiritual agony that took place in the Bible. These references were key in the story and modern day African American religious belief. The biblical references in the story gives the believers hope that hard work, endurance and perseverance pays off with faithfulness to their religion because the God they worshipped endured the same pain.

One day Delia got home Sykes was waiting for her at the door with a rattlesnake. Delia screamed “Jesus have mussy” which is a symbol for a cry out for salvation from such evil that was invited in her home. Delia eventually decided that she had enough of Sykes and his devious ways. She decided to turn the issue over to the spiritual Gods. Delia went to the church to do her worship and praying. Zora describes in the story how the service had Delia feeling warm and full of spirit. This is significant in the stance of African American religion because the spiritual belief is used as a feeling of joy and fulfillment even when the circumstances say otherwise.

However, the reward is in her faith. Delia drove home singing the songs of “Jurden” (Jordan) river from the bible which is a symbol of deliverance. After coming home from the late night service, she went to the kitchen door and stopped and stated “Whut’s de muttah, ol’ Satan, you ain’t kicking up yo racket?” “She addressed the snack box. She went to the kitchen with a new hope in its birth struggles.” This symbolized that she felt a sense of relief and through her worship and faith she no longer feared the devil because she had given problems to God. Psalm 55:22 states cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken.

As Delia was singing and getting ready to do her chorus she threw back the lid of the hamper and “there lay the snake in the basket.” The wind from the door blew out the lights and added darkness to her terror.” She did not feel safe on the ground, so she climbed on the hay barn. She finally fell asleep. Sykes returned to the house and when he entered the kitchen he woke the snake up trying to reach for a match to light the house. Sykes yelled “Maw Gawd”, a religious cry out for God to have mercy on his life and save him from the evilest creature he put in place to harm another human being turned around and harmed him. 1 John 3:8 says Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.

Given the complexity of the African American society and structures, their religion, worship and faith is extremely important in this culture. The analysis of the African American background highlights the approach in which African Americans have opted to deal with and the challenges which their ancestor endured. Religion provides inspiration meant for society to do more good in the world. It also reaps the consequences for those who have wrong the world.

Spiritual Roots in Zora Neale Hurston’s “Sweat” essay

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Spiritual Roots in Zora Neale Hurston’s “Sweat”. (2021, Nov 22). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/spiritual-roots-in-zora-neale-hurstons-sweat/


What does Delia realize as she reflects on her marriage with Sykes?
Delia realize as she reflects onher marriage to Sykes? Her remaining joy is her home . Delia begins to realize not only does she bring love to her home , but also realizes wishing for love is pointless .
What does Sweat symbolize in Sweat?
What does sweat represent in the short story Sweat? In the short story, sweat represents the hardships in Delia's life . Delia sweats while working as a washerwoman, and she also sweats when her husband abuses her and sweats as she prays.
What does the snake in Sweat symbolize?
In the story "Sweat," the snake symbolizes Delia's fear of Sykes . However, by the end of the story, the snake takes on a new meaning because the snake attacks and kills Sykes, relieving her from the thing she feared.
What is the biblical significance in Hurston's Sweat?
Ultimately, Hurston uses “Sweat” to portray a modern alternative to the Biblical story of the Garden of Eden, one that complicates the idea of “meekness” and also relocates the source of “original sin.” Hurston portrays true Christian faith as offering a person support through all manner of hardship.
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