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Bondage and Slavery against the Black in Zora Neale Hurston's Short Story 'Sweat'

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‘Sweat’ written by Zora Neale Hurston bears an undertone of bondage and slavery against the black. In this story, Delia, who is a middle-aged black woman who washes clothes for the white people to take care of her husband Sykes, who abuses her mentally and physically. Sykes is unemployed, and therefore, he depends on Delia’s provision, yet he cheats; he is arrogant, abusive, and continuously abuse Delia, who is forced to endure all these suffering in their marriage.

Delia pleads with her God for help so that she may survive. Delia’s life is miserable, and she describes her life as ‘Work and sweat, prays and sweat” (Hurston 233). She lives in slavery and abuse for fifteen years. Sykes selfishly utilizes Delia instead of appreciating her work. Sykes attacks Delia as she is folding the clothes and lays a bullwhip, which is long as a snake on Delia’s shoulder, ‘just then something long, round and limp and black fell upon her shoulders, and she slithered to the floor beside her’ (Hurston 221). Sykes intimidates and frightens Delia. Sykes tries to demonstrate his superiority over Delia, and he, therefore, uses the bullwhip to discipline and maintain legacy over Delia, whom she portrays to be a slave.

Delia lives a life of servitude even after the abolishment of slavery since Sykes is her master. She works endlessly in the heat of the sun just as the slaves were forced to work,” sweat, sweat, sweat’ (Hurston, 233). Delia’s sled hammer is ‘her knotty, muscled limbs and harsh knuckled hands’ (Hurston 234). Delia works for long hours daily to earn a living to feed herself and her husband; otherwise, she would die from starvation and be homeless.

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Sykes plays a trick on Delia and does not give her freedom in their marriage. Sykes abuses Delia economically by taking her earnings. Delia, therefore, depends on washing clothes for the white people in hideous places, and on Saturdays, she delivers clean clothes and picks the dirty clothes to support her husband, pay for the house, and buying food. Delia is unable to seek an excellent job opportunity because she is black and therefore portrayed to be inferior, ‘Ah been married to you fur fifteen years, and Ah been takin in washing” (Hurston 1023). Delia is so emotional and finds it hard to communicate since the emotional and physical abuse compounds the economic difficulties she undergoes from her husband, and she no longer hopes for love.

Delia is forced to meet his obligations because of the hard life she lives, and she works hard. She remains resilient and reliable in every moment. Even during the weekend, Delia comes around; she continues to attend to his work obediently,’ Hot or cold’ rain or shine” (Hurston 1024). Delia is terrified and shaken when Sykes brings the bullwhip to the housed but remains firm and defiant. She makes up her mind to cling on her Christian teachings and her God to help her overcome life struggles as a result of abuse from her husband.

Delia breaks the expectations of Christianity and faith even though she had always observed them. After the first trick on Delia when he uses a bullwhip to punish Delia without reason, Delia utters to herself in a loud sound, ‘oh well, whatever goes over the devil’s back is got to come under his belly. Sometimes or rather, Sykes like everybody else is gotta reap his sowing’ (Hurston 1024). Delia realizes that there is a snake (bullwhip) in the house decides to run away from the wrath experiencing craziness then a feeling of composure in her mind, ‘well, ah done de best ah could. If things aren’t right, Gawd knows to taint mah fault” (Hurston 1029). It clear that Delia is fed up with economic, physical, and emotional abuse.

Delia undertakes moderately a heartfelt feeling on the viewpoint about her husband, Sykes. She endured at the beginning of their stay working hard to provide for the family. Delia had wished her husband Sykes would live in peace with her bound with true and genuine love in their marriage. Delia had not bothered to fight back her husband but patiently endured the sufferings earlier before. Delia, however, develops a “triumphant indifference” (Hurston 1024) to Sykes that blooms into a fierce rebellion and decides that she will allow Sykes to bear the consequences of his actions marking a significant progress.

Work cited

  1. Hurston, Zora Neale. Sweat. Rutgers University Press, 1997.

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Bondage and Slavery against the Black in Zora Neale Hurston’s Short Story ‘Sweat’. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 2, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/bondage-and-slavery-against-the-black-in-zora-neale-hurstons-short-story-sweat/
“Bondage and Slavery against the Black in Zora Neale Hurston’s Short Story ‘Sweat’.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/bondage-and-slavery-against-the-black-in-zora-neale-hurstons-short-story-sweat/
Bondage and Slavery against the Black in Zora Neale Hurston’s Short Story ‘Sweat’. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/bondage-and-slavery-against-the-black-in-zora-neale-hurstons-short-story-sweat/> [Accessed 2 Feb. 2023].
Bondage and Slavery against the Black in Zora Neale Hurston’s Short Story ‘Sweat’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2023 Feb 2]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/bondage-and-slavery-against-the-black-in-zora-neale-hurstons-short-story-sweat/
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