¶ … Zora Neale Hurston represent Delia and Sykes in the first part of the story? This implies a great level of strength on Delia's part.
Sykes is clearly a sadist of some sort. When Delia is frightened by the bullwhip, thinking it's a snake and triggering her phobia, Sykes laughs at her and does not care how much he frightens her. It sets up the fact that Sykes will attempt to kill Delia (and fail) by the end of the story.
What change can you see in Delia's behavior towards Sykes in the first part of the story? Discuss what this could tell you about Zora Neale Hurston's attitude towards gender.
Delia stands up to Sykes, seemingly for the first time, by telling him that it's her sweat that pays for everything. This is true. Because Delia is doing all the work while Sykes reaps all the benefits, and sneaks off to copulate with his mistress Bertha, it is clear that Hurston sees the gender imbalance here as being analogous to the larger African-American trauma of slavery -- Delia is forced to labor and support an abusive "owner" who happens to be her African-American husband and not a white slaveowner.
3. In the second part of the story village men on Joe Clarke's porch talk about Delia. What do you learn more about Delia and Sykes from their talk?
4. Comment on what the following names in the story could signify: Joe Clarke, Jim Merchant, Joe Lindsay, Moss, Thomas Walter.
They sound like white men's names, Lindsay or Walter. They also sound like middle-management personnel: "Clarke" derives from "clerk" and "merchant" is obvious. "Moss" implies stationary idleness, what a rolling stone fails to gather. It implies that the position of men is like that of slaveowners or a managerial class -- women like Delia do the work, and men like this live off her efforts.
5. Why do you think Sykes dislikes skinny women like Delia? Why does he like fat women like Bertha? What could this tell you about his character?
Since the story is set in the early 20th century it is unlikely Sykes is a fan of Sir Mix-A-Lot or Nicki Minaj. Instead, the fatness of Bertha that Sykes fetishizes is…
This implies a great level of strength on Delia's part.
They know he beats Delia enough to "kill three women" (352). He also has a reputation for cheating on his wife. He is such a despicable person that Old Man Anderson believes he should be killed. Delia seems to be in a losing situation. Her husband hates her and there seems to be nothing she can do. Her strength is overlooked to a certain extent. Through it all, she
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Justice Served Justice is served in Zora Neal Hurston's "Sweat." The writer shows the central character as a person who is subjected to a great deal of pain through her marriage with Sykes and thus makes his death seem less of a sad incident. This episode actually frees Delia and makes it possible for her to actually consider life without him -- a lifestyle that would involve her doing what
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