The Harlem Renaissance was the development of the Harlem neighborhood. This era characterized the African Americans’ lifestyle featuring the enforcement of Jim Crow laws, denial of rights to this minority community, and oppression from the white supremacists (Jones, 2002). Subsequently, most African Americans migrated from the South to the North to escape the hostile environment in the South. Although the North was racist, it provided a better environment as it allowed African Americans the right to vote and black children could attend decent schools. The migration of blacks to the North, specifically New York, resulted in the development of the Harlem Movement, founded on African American culture and excellence (Jones, 2002). During this period, the blacks displayed their pride in scholarly works such as books and articles, artworks such as poems, and Jazz music. African Americans authored Harlem Renaissance Literature between the 1920s and 1930s to identify the African American literature style. One remarkable piece of literature authored during Harlem was Sweat by Zora Neale Hurston, a black female author who wrote works reflecting her lifestyle as she lived in poverty and debt and was underpaid in her writing profession. Hurston was also a drama teacher and had set up an art school at Bethune-Cookman College. Her Sweat portrays the Harlem Renaissance era by depicting the African American’s lifestyle, poverty, class, and religion’s role in this community.
Sweat depicts the Harlem Renaissance movement by illustrating the African Americans’ lifestyle. The story’s setting is the impoverished segregated Florida town dominated by African Americans in the 1920s. The blacks engaged in blue-collar jobs for survival, as illustrated by Delia, who worked as a wash woman for fifteen years (Hurston, 1997). During one of their fights, Delia tells Sykes that their house is a product of their Sweat. She also claims that the past fifteen years have been about Sweat and tears owing to the difficult nature of her work. Delia cleaned the clothes of white families as her husband scolded her for working for the whites on a Sabbath. Delia’s work is intensive to the extent that she cannot take a day off the week to ensure she earns enough funds for the bills. The story depicts the poverty aspects of the blacks during the Harlem Renaissance. Sweat depicts the middle-class ideal man of the house as he orders his wife to take her washing outside, threatening to beat her for failure to comply with his orders. During this period, men held authority over their households and issued orders to their wives.
The story also portrays the black’s resentment against the whites owing to their oppression illustrated by the segregation. Sykes showcases his resentment against the whites by scolding his wife for cleaning the whites’ clothes (Hurston, 1997). The Harlem Renaissance also depicted the community aspect among the African American community, whereby the blacks would gather in groups and discuss various issues (Jones, 2002). While delivering clean clothes to her clients, Delia encountered a group of village men discussing Syke’s infidelity outside the store owned by Joe Clarke. The men claimed they should drag Sykes and his mistress to the swamp and beat them. The men’s concern for Delia’s situation reflects the Renaissance era’s community aspect. The African Americans developed a negative attitude towards white supremacy and sought their independence and rights, setting the stage for the birth of the Civil Rights Movement.
Sweat reflects the spirituality of the Harlem Reinsurance movement, whereby Christianity was the dominant religion among African Americans. Hurston depicts Christianity as a reliable support system for African Americans. Delia Jones, the protagonist in the narrative, endures abuse from her husband, Sykes, by finding solace in her religion (Hurston, 1997). Sunday night after church, Sykes fights Delia, claiming she should not work on the Sabbath. Later in the night, while sleeping, Delia “built spiritual earthworks” against Sykes, and she felt that his “Shells” could no longer access her and later slept. Hurston employs battlefield language in depicting the World War 1 event characterizing the period (Jones, 2002). Moreover, Hurston compares Delia’s oppression to Christ during his persecution and crucifixion. The Christianity theme is further reinforced through the snake creature Sykes planted to drive Delia from their home so he could bring his mistress. This act resembles the “fall of mankind” story, whereby Eve conspired with the snake to engage in sin alongside Adam, causing them to be kicked out of the Garden of Eden. Similarly, Sykes was using the snake to drive Delia from her home. Christianity governed the lifestyle of the African Americans during the Harlem Renaissance as they attended church on Sundays.
From the analysis, Sweat portrays the Harlem Renaissance era by depicting the African American’s lifestyle, poverty, class, and religion’s role in this community. Hurston depicts the Harlem Renaissance movement by illustrating the African Americans’ lifestyle. The story also portrays the black’s resentment against the whites owing to their oppression illustrated by the segregation. Lastly, the story reflects the African Americans’ faith as they sought moral guidance from Christianity.
Hurston, Z. N. (1997). Sweat. Rutgers University Press.
Jones, S. L. (2002). Rereading the Harlem Renaissance: Race, Class, and Gender in the Fiction of Jessie Fauset, Zora Neale Hurston, and Dorothy West (No. 207). Greenwood Publishing Group.