Zora Neale Hurston’s short story “Sweat” introduces the reader to Delia Jones, a washwoman living in Florida in the 1920’s. Throughout the story, Delia Jones is perceived to be a very hardworking and undoubtedly is the breadwinner in her marriage. Her husband, Sykes, is extremely horrible towards her and constantly terrorizes and cheats on her during the duration of their marriage.
In order to stay mentally sane and live with the complexity of their marriage, Delia turns towards faith in order to cope with her abusive husband. The central idea in “Sweat” is the age-old saying of what goes around comes around and the outcome of hard work verses laziness. Set in the scorching heat of summer in 1920’s Florida, Hurston uses a third person omniscient point of view to give the impression someone is observing Delia and her husband. This perspective plunges the reader closer into our protagonist’s world creating a link between the narrator and reader.
The central idea in “Sweat” is the age-old saying of what goes around comes around and the outcome of hard work verses laziness. Delia is right away characterized with a great work ethic, constantly working to support herself and her husband. Hurston writes that “ She [Deliah] is a washwoman, and monday morning meant a great deal for”. She is portrayed as tidy and meticulous, organizing her laundry and working throughout the week as her husband galivants with his mistress. Although Delia is the sole provider for the couple, Sykes is seen as incredibly ungrateful, beating her and using her earned money to swoon his mistress. By the end of the story, Sykes falls victim to his own attempt at killing his wife, and Delia is finally liberated from an abusive marriage.
This also identifies the story’s central conflict as Woman vs. Man, as it is abundantly clear that Sykes is the main antagonist of the story. Sykes constantly argues with Delia and threatens to assault her constantly throughout the story. Delia addresses this conflict several times, as well as other citizens of her town. At first characterized as somewhat submissive to her husband, Delia’s character greatly shifts as the story progresses. Her attitude greatly changes during a feud with her husband over bringing her work home with her.
As seen when “she seized the iron skillet from the stove and struck a defensive pose…her once seen as small is now seen as powerful and intimidating” (Hurston). After this pivotal point in the story, Delia’s meek character subsides and is now seen more superior than when she was first introduced allowing her dynamic character to take effect.
The setting and point of view is very crucial in “Sweat”. Set in Florida in the 1920’s, Zora Neale Hurston uses a third person omniscient point of view allowing the reader to observe Delia’s world through an outside perspective. Hurston also uses a colloquial dialect as well as formal narration to better illustrate the setting of our story. During the era the story was written, many women like Delia lacked the superiority to stand up for themselves in an abusive marriage and in return our protagonist is resorted to living a life where walking on thin ice is an everyday feat. The mentioning of the sweltering summer heat multiple times throughout the story also aids to the idea that Delia’s life is not an easy one, creating a feeling of tenseness within the reader.