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Delia’s Tenacity in the Short Story “Sweat” by Hurston

“The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him ” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary: Verses 21–25). The short story Sweat, written in 1926 by Zora Neale Hurston, explores many complex political, gender and racial issues. The story depicts the hardships of Delia, an African American laundress who has been married to a violent man for fifteen years. Although she is abused by her husband, Delia is actually a stronger character than meets the eye. The author’s idea is to study the role of women and African Americans in a social and personal context and how these roles can be changed through the study of self-identification. Delia is a strong woman who has not been overcome by the hardships of life in difficult times, when the society imposed restrictions on the basis of race, gender and class, and who was able to get rid of the oppression of gender inequality.

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Delia’s fortitude and her strength, both physical and mental, are contained even in the title of the shot story. In most cases, sweat is associated with masculinity, physical labor, and athletic prowess, which is typical for men. In turn, Delia is busy with exhausting work, on her fragile and at the same time strong shoulders both she and her husband Sykes hold at the expense of the money she earns by washing other people’s clothes. This harsh image of a sweaty, working Delia contrasts with archetypal feminine images. However, she is not discouraged and resilient in the face of gender discrimination and domestic violence.

The author explores a woman’s ability to overcome gender barriers and do hard work while maintaining a sense of her femininity and individuality. Sykes prefers only fat women, and the body of his own wife, who has supported him for years, disgusts him. “Ah’m so tired of you Ah don’t know whut to do. Gawd! how Ah hates skinny wimmen!”Hurston, 1023) The fact that her body does not like her husband but is perfect for her job shows that Delia’s priorities have changed from caring for Sykes to being a woman who can take care of herself and to resist Sykes’ mistreatment. Delia’s transformation culminates in the moment when Sykes dies from a snakebite, and his wife just watches it from the sides, which symbolizes her independence.

An equally important problem that oppresses Delia, but which it ultimately defeats, is religious divisions against the background of gender discrimination. Religion is what Sykes mentions in the first argument with his wife, which he provokes at the beginning of the story. “You ain’t nothing but a hypocrite. One of them amen-corner Christians-sing, whoop, and shout, then come home and wash white folks clothes on the Sabbath” (Hurston , 1023). When Sykes attacks her religion, Delia suddenly challenges his authority and responds bravely and angrily to his accusations and insults. This moment of transformative anger pushes Delia towards the independence and strength that she maintains throughout the rest of the shot story.

Moreover, race is another depressing factor that must be accommodated and overcome. Since Delia washes clothes for the wealthier white members of the community, her husband is constantly disgruntled with this and blames his wife for his own failure. Sykes allows his social position, based on the racial aspects of that time, to bring him to the level of frustration and apathy. In turn, Delia is removed from social hierarchies to complete the work she does to support herself. Her dignity and moral fortitude lies in her decision to stay out of the oppression that her husband has failed to deal with.

In addition to all of the above, Delia’s resilience also lies in her ability to resist social gender attitudes. According to Bere and Arianto (2019), how Sykes gets away with his abusive behavior and how Delia manages to keep living with him is a direct consequence of an environment that encourages specific gender roles. The passive interest of the village men who watch Delia work on the day “even conversation had collapsed under the heat” (Hurston, 1024) reflects an indifference to Delia’s situation. This indicates a patriarchal decision to avoid interfering in the affairs of another man. Social values and attitudes are important factors influencing Delia and Sykes’ relationship and are integral to Sykes and Delia’s understanding of gender roles in the family. Thus, Delia’s resilience lies in the fact that she can question these roles and go beyond them.

Sykes’ abuse of Delia is based on deeply rooted beliefs about the strength of men in family and society. His actions are forgivable in a society that realizes that he and Delia are married, and despite Sykes’ betrayal, his and Delia’s wedding vows tie them together until they are parted by death. What he becomes for Delia has to do with his insecurity in this role and his need to establish some kind of authority in the house. In turn, Delia can no longer continue to live in humiliation and insult. The heroine changes her life radically, getting rid of the abuse, which testifies to her spiritual strength.

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Questions concerning women have been present in African American literature for many years. This was not just a case: African American women have always been preoccupied with issues of men and women, family, gender roles, moral choices, good and evil, closely associated with African American writers. Thus, Sweat is a powerful study of domestic violence and the survival of strong women in a patriarchal society in which aspects such as race, gender, and social class are key. Contrary to popular belief that women cannot make decisions independently and must obey their husbands, Hurston’s female ideal goes a long way in self-identification. The main character, Delia, is a vivid example of a strong woman who managed to resist social attitudes, gender inequality, and abuse from her husband.

Works Cited

Bere, Noviana, and Tomi Arianto. ” Woman violence and resistance in “Sweat” short story by Zora Neale Hurston: Feminist approach.” Journal basis, vol. 6, no.2, 2019, pp. 249-258. Web.

Hurston, Zora Neale “Sweat.” The Oxford Book of American Short Stories, edited by Joyce Carol Oates, Oxford University Press, 1992, pp. 1022-1030.

“Matthew Henry’s Commentary: Verses 21–25.” Bible Gateway, 2021, Web.

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