Sweat by Zora Neale Hurston


Sweat is a short fictional story which was written by Zora Neale Hurston. The story is female empowerment highlighting which focuses on a woman who tries to overcome her husband’s abusive acts. The story was written in the 1920s, and its setting is in central Florida near the Orlando region. Sweat fictional story features Delia and her husband known as Sykes. Their marital strife is not such a fairy tale and does not have a happy ending. The most significant fact is the absence of white people in the context.

This tale demonstrates that despite the shortage of the presence of white people and have some considerable amount of power in the story. The white people traditionally have exercised power the African American. Leading protagonist, Delia who used to wash clothes for the white people for a living was able to buy a house from her earnings Just as most of her works the use of symbolism is key to understanding it.

Below is some of the symbolism that the author uses.


In Sweat, clothing is symbolic in very many ways. To start with, Delia is a washerwoman which typically represents the lousy history of women treatment whereby they were subjected to back-breaking labor and other life difficulties. The notion of women and hard work is especially true if one considers the life of African-American women who were mostly treated as slaves. According to the story, Delia’s husband would consistently trample on her clothing, which would show his contempt for her and her job, even though the clothing was for their upkeep.

Get quality help now
Dr. Karlyna PhD

Proficient in: Clothing

4.7 (235)

“ Amazing writer! I am really satisfied with her work. An excellent price as well. ”

+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

Thus symbolizes his disregard for their life together and also her wellbeing (Hurston, 1997). In the current society, most junior workers have their right protected by the set down laws. So there is limited mistreatment and discrimination.


The use of snakes in this story is a symbol of malice and evil, and it is used throughout the story. Notably, Delia is very afraid of snakes which is the fact that his husband Sykes uses for his advantage. At the start of the story, Sykes tricks her with a whip with the aim of scaring her to show that he still dominates her life. Later on, Sykes catches a rattlesnake, which Delia begs him to kill. However, despite her pleas, he lives it in the house with her where is makes continuous rattles which to her, is a signal of trouble. In concurrence with the modern society, every spouse has an equal right. Thus there is no superiority against the other partner and taking of advantage.

The Chinaberry Tree

In Hurston’s story, plants, fruits, and flowers are a universal symbol and are always used to symbolize fertility and womanhood. Markedly, the chinaberry trees are not inherent in Florida, and they are considered to be an invasive species which was initially meant to be ornamental (Short & Leech, 2013). They provide excellent and cool shades, but their fruits are poisonous. In the story, Delia sits under the shadow of Chinaberry tree waiting for Sykes to die after being bitten by a rattlesnake that he had brought into the house. In this scenario, the tree symbolizes that fertility and womanhood had won in the end. In the current society, the husband and wife have an equal chance of infertility and can only be affirmed by a medical practitioner.

White and Black

In the story, there is an interplay of black and white which signifies dirty and clean respectively. Also, this means darkness and light, and evil and good. These aspects interplay throughout the entire story. At one instance Delia tries to separate white clothes from dark ones after her husband had scattered them and trampled dirt on the white pile of clothes. Sykes tells him not to bring white people’s clothing into their home, but the bottom of the matter is that she likes everything to be neat and sparkling clean. Governance by nations and international set down guidelines protects the whites and blacks equally. The adjustment has brought about minimal discriminations.


Sweat is a factious story written by Zora Neale Hurston which focuses on women empowerment. There is a high use of symbolism throughout the story with the aim of showing the real power that women have. It focuses on the life of an abusive husband Sykes and his wife, Delia. Despite all that he puts his wife through, she triumphs at the end. Thus, it has generally brought a great slogan that ‘Behind every successful man there is a woman.’ The woman is always considered the engine power of ever progress and success.

Cite this page

Sweat by Zora Neale Hurston. (2022, May 11). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/sweat-by-zora-neale-hurston/

Let’s chat?  We're online 24/7