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Harlem Renaissance in Zora Neale Hurston’s Short Story 'Sweat': Analytical Essay

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“Too much knockin’ will ruin any ‘oman. He done beat huh ‘nough tuh kill three women, let ‘lone change they looks,” says Elijah Mosley one of the characters discussing how Sykes Jones treats his wife Delia Jones in Zora Neale Hurston’s short story, Sweat. He uses this comment to express the extent of Sykes’ abuse and Delia’s resilience. Elijah says that beating a woman will ruin the beauty of any women and Sykes did not only beat Delia enough to change her looks, but he has beaten her enough to kill three women. This quote is the reason why I chose this topic, domestic violence in African American literature.

During this time, African American authors were able to pick up on the play of gender roles and produce a strong commentary on how women were often oppressed by men. In the two short stories “Sweat” and “Like a Winding Sheet” shows how men and women were treated during the Harlem Renaissance. The abuse they endured and how they still prevailed. Characters in these stories were affected by such roles mentally, physically, and emotionally. Zora Neale Hurston uses symbolism, foreshadowing, and imagery throughout the story of “Sweat” and Ann Petry uses foreshadowing, symbolism, and social realism throughout the story of “Like a Winding Sheet”. I wish to show how African American men and women prevailed during the 1920s and show how they overcame domestic violence and every other obstacle that was thrown at them and how they had a special role in the South during the development of the United States.

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In the short story, “Sweat” the protagonist Delia Jones is a prime example of how African American women prevailed during the 1920s. She’s a hardworking woman who lives in Florida. She provides for her and her husband Sykes by cleaning clothes for white people. She holds fast to her Christian beliefs, while her husband Sykes does nothing to contribute to the house, neither does he allow her to work in peace. He abuses her physically, mentally, and emotionally by walking around town with his mistress, he talks down on Delia, and he also brought a rattlesnake to put it in her washcloth basket. Throughout all these obstacles Delia still prevailed. In “Like a Winding Sheet” Johnson is an African American male who goes to work to endure a long day of being treated less than a person. He’s late getting to work, and his boss gets angry at him and calls him a nigger. After work, he tries to get a cup of coffee but is refused because he’s black.

By reading this essay, critics can gain the opportunity to see the struggles African Americans dealt with during the Harlem Renaissance. This presentation will go further into explaining how holding onto things aren’t good, and how to persevere when your adversary lives with you. It will be interesting to re-read these stories for its message about good vs evil and devastation that can be caused by racial injustice. Finally, I hope to increase everyone’s knowledge of the great works that Zora Neale Hurston and Ann Petry created and add them to the Hall of African American heroes.

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Harlem Renaissance in Zora Neale Hurston’s Short Story ‘Sweat’: Analytical Essay. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved October 2, 2023, from
“Harlem Renaissance in Zora Neale Hurston’s Short Story ‘Sweat’: Analytical Essay.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022,
Harlem Renaissance in Zora Neale Hurston’s Short Story ‘Sweat’: Analytical Essay. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 2 Oct. 2023].
Harlem Renaissance in Zora Neale Hurston’s Short Story ‘Sweat’: Analytical Essay [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2023 Oct 2]. Available from:
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