Money, Struggle, Adultery: Zola Neale Hurston's Relationships

In the short stories “Sweat and “The Gilded Six-Bits”, by Zola Neale Hurston portrays some aspects of domestic African American life. They both have differences when it comes to the power of their relationships throughout their plot. The two short tales give off powerful messages in their own way in terms of money, status, struggle, race, adultery and control. In “Sweat”, it mainly focuses on two characters, Delia and Sykes, who are a married couple. Delia works hard as a washerwoman while her husband Sykes who is jobless, abusive, domineering and an adulterer.

He frequently abuses and strikes fear into her because of her phobia of snakes. As the story progresses, he even tries to kill his wife by hiding a snake that ironically ends up biting him. This author is trying to illustrate how Delia ultimately gets her freedom from her husband who treated her very badly.

On the other hand, “The Gilded Six-Bits”, also focuses on two characters who are also a married couple Missie May and Joe.

Joe is a lower class man who works hard to provide for his wife to ensure that she is happy. Their marriage was good until a white man named Otis Slemmons, who seems rich and charming, shows up. Joe catches Missie May in bed with Slemmons; who she was sleeping with for money and gold. This causes a major issue in the marriage, but they continue to live together to try and rebuild their relationship again. At the end of the story, Missie May is pregnant which causes Joe to be distant for a while until he eventually returns to be with his family because of the love he has for her.

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The story focuses on the type of things people would do in order to have wealth and a higher level of power even if it affects the people they love. The two stories have some concepts that are similar, but at the same time both have powerful ideas that are different.

Firstly, the beginning of “Sweat” jumps right into the toxic relationship between Sykes and Delia. Sykes controls and abuses his wife mentally, verbally and physically throughout the story. For instance, he knows that Delia is afraid of snakes, so he uses his bullwhip to scare her because it looks like a snake. “Something long, round, limp and black fell upon her shoulders and slithered to the floor beside her. A great terror took hold of her. It softened her knees and dried her mouth so that it was a full minute before she could cry out or move. Then she saw that it was the big bull whip”(p.1022). He found joy while doing this to her, and when she questions his actions he insults even more. Sykes also hates the fact his wife works for white people by saying, “You sho is one aggravatin’ nigger woman… Ah done to you time and again to keep them white folks’ clothes outa dis house’ (p.1022). The constant verbal abuse builds up in Delia’s head.

Additionally, the beginning of “The Gilded Six- Bits” in comparison to “Sweat” is different because it shows how a happily married couple behaves versus an unhappy one. Hurston writes, “Nobody ain’t gointer be chunkin’ money at me and Ah not do ’em nothin’,’ she shouted in mock anger. He ran around the house with Missie May at his heels. She overtook him at the kitchen door. He ran inside but could not close it after him before she crowded in and locked with him in a rough-and-tumble. For several minutes the two were a furious mass of male and female energy. Shouting, laughing, twisting, turning, tussling, tickling each other in the ribs” (p.2). Joe plays with Missie May by throwing dollars at her while running around, laughing and joking just to make sure that she is happy as opposed to how Sykes laughs at Delia with the bullwhip just to mess with her head.

Moreover, in “The Gilded Six-Bits”, Missie May and Joe’s marriage was in a good place until Slemmons came into the picture. However, everything about Slemmons seems a bit off in terms of the way he acts and talks about his women. Joe still wants to be like him and admires the way he carries himself. Hurston writes, “Joe spent the time trying to make his stomach punch out like Slemmons’s middle. He tried the rolling swagger of the stranger” (p.5). He wants to make a good impression in front of Slemmons because of money and gold. As a result, Joe wants to show off his most prized possession, Missie May, when he takes her to the ice-cream parlour. This took a turn for the worst, and later in the story Missie May ends up betraying Joe by committing adultery with Slemmons. She threw away her loyalty to gain money, power and high status because Joe always wanted these things. As the story progresses, Joe and Missie May try to rebuild their relationship for the better because of the birth of a child.

Furthermore, in the story “Sweat”, Sykes doesn’t care about Delia at all and instead of being a good husband he purposely torments her. For instance, even in her sleep she is tormented. Hurston writes, “She went to sleep and slept until he announced his presence in bed by kicking her feet and rudely snatching the covers away” (p.1024). Sykes doing these petty actions shows how much he doesn’t care about her. He also commits adultery with a woman named Bertha which was always an ongoing situation. He treats Bertha better than how he treats Delia. “Just then Delia drove past on her way home, as Sykes was ordering magnificently for Bertha. It pleased him for Delia to see. ‘Git whutsoever yo’ heart desires, Honey” (p.1025). In my view, Sykes commits adultery to try and break his wife’s heart whereas in “The Gilded Six-Bits” Missie May did it to get something in return for her husband.

In conclusion, both tales illustrate powerful ideas in their own way in terms of money, status, struggle, race, and adultery. They both have differences when it comes to the power of their relationships throughout their plot. However, the setting of both stories is crucial because it establishes and portrays certain characteristics of African American way of life. It is quite impressive how Hurston wrote these two stories because of how she mixes bad actions with a deeper meaning that makes it seem good to the reader. Zora Neale Hurston gives many messages in both stories without trying to make them blatantly obvious. They have some concepts that are similar, but at the same time both have powerful ideas that are different.

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Money, Struggle, Adultery: Zola Neale Hurston's Relationships. (2022, May 10). Retrieved from

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