Reflection on Short Story: Sweat

My first impression of this short story was that it was difficult to read. Based on the language used, I assume that it takes place during the slave era. The main character, Delia, was an abused woman who was constantly tormented by her abusive husband Sykes. Delia was a hard working woman who washed clothes for the local white men. Her husband, Sykes, hated this but used the money she earned on other women around town.

The story opens with Sykes tormenting Delia with a bullwhip which reveals her fear of snakes.

“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.”

“Course Ah knowed it! That’s how come Ah done it.” He slapped his leg with his hand and almost rolled on the ground in his mirth. “If you such a big fool dat you got to have a fit over a earth worm or a string, Ah don’t keer how bad Ah skeer you.” 

The characters in this story are important because it builds the relationship and the feeling of pity for the main character Delia.  Throughout the story, Sykes is painted as an abhorrent man who spends time in the company of women and openly flaunts these relationships to Delia.

The ending of the story is humorous as Sykes gets what he deserves. He begins to torture Delia again by placing a rattlesnake in a box by the front door for days. At some point, the snake escapes and finds its way into a laundry basket. As she goes to sort the laundry, she is startled by the snake and flees the house. She falls asleep in a hay patch why contemplating her hate for Sykes. He returns from a day of boozing with his mistress and heads to the kitchen. The snake had moved to the kitchen where it strikes, and presumably, bites Sykes.

Although it’s not clear, the way the ending is written implies that Sykes called out to Delia for help. However, she knew that doctors were too far away and she would not be able to help him, thus he died. This was an ironic twist to the story as he took great pleasure in torturing his wife with the snake.

“She saw him on his hands and knees as soon as she reached the door. He crept an inch or two toward her–all that he was able, and she saw his horribly swollen neck and his one open eye shining with hope. A surge of pity too strong to support bore her away from that eye that must, could not, fail to see the tubs. He would see the lamp. Orlando with its doctors was too far. She could scarcely reach the Chinaberry tree, where she waited in the growing heat while inside she knew the cold river was creeping up and up to extinguish that eye which must know by now that she knew.”

Hurston, Zora “Sweat.” ENGL200: Composition and Literature.