Sweat by Zora Neal Hurston Specifically it Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Sweat, by Zora Neal Hurston. Specifically, it will contain a biography of the writer and criticism of her work "Sweat," along with another story.


Hurston was born on January 7, 1891. She grew up in Eatonville, Florida, which was the first all-black town incorporated in the United States. "She received her early education at the Hungerford School, modeled after Tuskegee Institute, with its guiding principles of discipline and hard work; Hungerford's founders had studied with Tuskegee's founder Booker T. Washington" (Hill XVII). An avid reader, she soon learned to love myth and lore, and teachers and friends encouraged her love of books and reading. When she attended college, she majored in English, and began writing for several journals. She wrote "Sweat" in 1926. She also studied anthropology, and traveled to the South to research black folk tales and voodoo. She also wrote plays and journal articles on folklore. "She was both observer and participant, as scholars have shown. The many commentaries on Hurston's skill translating both the participant and observer perspectives into her writing have opened myriad possibilities for looking at her text as examples of modernist narrative" (Hill XX). Hurston died in 1960, and was buried in an unmarked grave in Florida. Novelist Alice Walker took an interest in Hurston, and wrote a book about her writings. She also tried to locate her grave in Florida and mark it, which she did, and then wrote a book about her experiences, which has helped bring Hurston's work back into study (Novelguide.com).


Hurston's short story "Sweat" concerns the lives of Delia and Sykes, two emotional and very different characters. Delia takes in laundry to earn a living. She says of her backbreaking work, "Sweat, sweat, sweat! Work and sweat, cry and sweat, pray and sweat!'" (Sweat). Her husband Sykes, is a lazy man who never seems to earn any money, but keeps a mistress, who he would like to move into the house he shares with Delia. He wants Delia to leave, so his mistress can move in, and for once in her life, Delia stands up to him, and tells him no. "She seized the iron skillet from the stove and struck a defensive pose, which act surprised him greatly, coming from her. It cowed him and he did not strike her as he usually did" (Sweat). In foreshadowing of things to come, he torments her with a bullwhip early in the story. "Sykes, what you throw dat whip on me like dat? You know it would skeer me -- looks just like a snake, an' you knows how skeered Ah is of snakes'" (Sweat).

The snake theme will weave its way through the story, with "S" words present in nearly every sentence. "A remarkable transformation in iconography can be seen in the prevalence of S, with its resemblance to the snake symbolizing Damballah Wedo, the serpent deity of Voodoo" (Hill 196). Sykes brings home a live rattlesnake to further torment Delia, hoping it will chase her out of the house, but the snake ends up killing Sykes instead, in an ironic twist at the end, and Delia does nothing to stop it. She is finally free of Sykes and his evil, and can continue her life in the little home she has created for herself.

Sweat" is more than just the story of a good woman and an evil man, it is the story of a woman who learns to stand up for herself. The town gossips sit on the porch of the general store and discuss Delia and her marriage, and how she has had the love beaten out of her by Sykes. He has always treated her like an animal, and she has put up with it, but finally, when she has had enough, she learns standing up to him takes him by surprise, and even makes him respect her a tiny bit. She has suffered at his hands, and at the end of the story it is clear she will live a better life.


When Hurston's book "Their Eyes Were Watching God" was first published in 1937, black readers were more critical of it than white readers were. They felt Hurston portrayed Negroes as always happy - singing and dancing, and that she did not show their lives in the South realistically. Today, English classes commonly study the book, and critics give it wide acclaim. The story takes its title from the passage, "They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God" (God 151).

One of the main themes of the story is learning about yourself. Janie, the main character, is a mulatto woman who has lived most of her life the way other people thought she should. Her mother abandons here when she is young, and her grandmother (Nanny), raises her. Nanny has a very strict moral code, and specific ideas about freedom and marriage. Janie marries the man Nanny says she should, because he has land, and he will keep her "safe and protected," that is Nanny's idea of freedom. However, Logan Killicks is not the man for Janie, and their marriage only lasts a year.

She then runs off and marries Joe (Jody) Starks, but unfortunately, she discovers he is not the man for her either. He physically and mentally abuses her in order to gain power and prestige in the town where they move. Neither man makes her happy, or makes her feel complete. She and Jody are married for nearly 20 years. When she finally tells him exactly what she thinks about him, he beats her savagely, then he cannot handle what she has said, and he dies. It is the first time that Janie has actually felt free in her life. Nine months later she marries Tea Cake, the first man she really has loved in her life. He is not what everyone expected from her, he steals from her, gambles, and has an affair. However, he loves her, and she loves him, even though she has to kill him in the end. This is another common thread in the two stories. The cruel men die in the end, as they should. They must pay for their evil deeds, and the ultimate payment is death.

Tea Cake helps Janie to discover herself, and find true happiness. He is the man who teaches her that she does not need anyone to survive, that she is a loving and capable woman, who can take care of herself. She tells her livelong friend Pheoby what she has learned, "you got tuh go there tuh know there...Two things everybody got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin' fuh theyselves'" (God 183).

The porch is another theme that flows through the novel. The porch is where people gather after a hard day's work, and where they gossip. All day long they cannot have a voice, or an opinion, they must follow the "bossman's" rules, so in the evening, the porch is their pulpit, their newspaper, and their power. There is always a porch somewhere in the story. Jody talks to the townspeople of Eatonville on a porch when he first discusses becoming mayor or the town. The porch in front of their store is where the townspeople gather and tell colorful stories and folk tales. Janie does not enjoy running the store, but she loves listening to the stories the men tell on the porch. Jody thinks the people are "trash," and will not allow her to sit on the porch and listen, so the porch now becomes something forbidden in her life that Janie enjoys. It is another way for Jody to control her.

When Janie finally lashes out at Jody, she does it from the store's porch, in front of the men who constantly sit there. Again, the porch is a symbol, only now it is a symbol of Janie's burgeoning discontent, and her longing to be free from the control of others. She knows that Jody's control is lifting, and that she is finally on the road to find herself. She is no longer afraid of him, and this is a big step for her. The porch symbolizes freedom, and she has finally taken her own steps toward freedom on the porch. In "Sweat," the porch theme continues. "The village men on Joe Clarke's porch even chewed cane listlessly" (Sweat). It is here the men on the porch "provide, in part II, a backdrop to the action, as they chew cane stalks while chatting about the past, present, and future of Delia and Sykes's marriage. The men devote considerable talk to Sykes's infidelity in a scene that plays upon the ritualistic significance of community talk" (Hill 196).

Another major theme in Hurston's novel is the difference between the dreams of men and women, in fact, the novel opens with the statement, "Ships at…

Cite This Term Paper:

"Sweat By Zora Neal Hurston Specifically It" (2002, December 08) Retrieved August 18, 2017, from

"Sweat By Zora Neal Hurston Specifically It" 08 December 2002. Web.18 August. 2017. <

"Sweat By Zora Neal Hurston Specifically It", 08 December 2002, Accessed.18 August. 2017,