Sweat by Zora Neale Hurston
In Sweat by Zora Neale Hurston we have the theme of struggle, pride, acceptance, infidelity, brutality, control, independence, self-importance and freedom. Taken from her The Complete Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Hurston may be exploring the theme of struggle. Delia does everything she can to keep a roof over her head. It is something that she prides herself on despite the fact that her husband Skyes threatens her constantly with violence while at the same time he conducts a relationship with another woman (Bertha). If anything Delia is a hard-working honest woman who many in the town pity due to her relationship with Skyes. As to why Delia never leaves Skyes is difficult to say but she may believe that the vows she took when she married Skyes were meant to be for life. No matter how difficult life may be for Delia she appears to have committed herself to Skyes and his ways. Something which cannot be easy for Delia particularly when there is another woman involved in her marriage. If anything Delia appears to accept the conditions she finds herself under.
Skyes character is also interesting as he does not appear to have any redeeming qualities. He flaunts Bertha around the town and on one occasion Bertha even calls to Delia’s home. Something which many critics might suggest is an insensitive thing to do. It is bad enough that Skyes is cheating on Delia but to do it so publically rubs salt into Delia’s wounds. There is also a possibility that Delia is independent of Skyes. Though he lives with her on and off. She is not reliant on him. She has her laundry job which keeps her occupied even if Skyes does not agree with Delia washing white people’s clothes. As far as comforts in her life. Delia appears to be happy to have her home even if Skyes thinks that the home is his. This could be significant as Skyes thinks that everything that Delia has is his. It is as though he believes himself to be more important that he actually is. Even when he flaunts Bertha around town he tells her that he owns the town.
The fact that so many people in the town know how Delia is treated by Skyes may also be important as some of the men suggest that they would cause harm to Skyes yet when they encounter Skyes they sheepishly walk away from him. It is as though Skyes not only has an element of control over Delia but some of the men in the town despite what they say seem to be afraid of Skyes too. Something that might be very clear to Skyes and as such gives him the over inflated confidence that he has. As to why Skyes stays with Delia rather than pursuing a full time relationship with Bertha might also be worth asking. Skyes likes to be in control and the arrangement he has with both Delia and Berth ensures that he remains in control. In Skyes opinion he has the best of both worlds. He has a wife who will cook and wash for him and he has a mistress who will tend to any other needs he might have. If anything some readers might suggest that Skyes not only has no redeeming qualities but he is also an exceptionally selfish man.
The end of the story is also interesting as there is a sense that Skyes gets what is coming to him. Despite his pleas to Delia to help him after he has been bitten by the rattlesnake. She does not help Skyes. It is as though Delia can see that she is being freed from the brutality that Skyes has imposed on her and rather than allow that to continue she thinks of herself and her future. If anything Skyes death is a weight off Delia’s shoulders. Though some readers might suggest that Delia has a responsibility to help Skyes. It might be important to remember not only how Skyes has treated Delia but also that Delia’s number one responsibility is to herself. She may be a widow but she will be happier. No longer living her life in fear of Skyes brutality. Skyes own arrogance by bringing the rattlesnake into the house has eventually led to his own undoing and the reader is left suspecting that very few people will mourn his passing. Delia will have peace of mind and Bertha with nobody to support her will eventually leave town. Ironically Skyes wanted to be in control of others yet at the end of the story he is left with nothing. His own ignorance and arrogance has resulted in his death. A death that Delia will welcome.