Need a perfect paper? Place your first order and save 5% with this code:   SAVE5NOW

Literary Analysis of “Sweat” by Zora Neale Hurston

“Sweat,” written by Zora Neale Hurston and published during the Harlem Renaissance in 1926, is an example of feminist writing. Hurston, a woman who was oppressed at the time, wrote “Sweat” from her own point of view. Delia Jones is a hardworking African-American lady who lives in Florida and makes a job washing white people’s white garments. Delia has been locked in an abusive marriage with a guy named Sykes Jones for fifteen years. Sykes punishes Delia for her hard work by beating her on a regular basis. Sykes is eventually punished for his abuse of Delia by dying to a snake bite.

Hurston expresses herself via a lot of symbolism. Symbols are used to replace words and concepts. Delia’s hard effort is symbolized by her perspiration. Hurston also included a snake to signify evil, laundry to represent Delia’s livelihood, and a Chinaberry tree to symbolize Delia’s calm. Symbolism is important in “Sweat” because it adds depth to the plot. Hurston uses symbolism to show Delia Jones’ marital difficulties. To completely comprehend “Sweat,” one needs examine Zora Neale Hurston’s experience as an oppressed woman in the early twentieth century. The triumph of Delia’s liberation is conveyed to readers via Hurston’s use of symbolism, which includes perspiration, garments, a snake, and a Chinaberry tree.

Smells like sweat, which not only reflected in the title but also helps readers envision the tale. Delia’s sweat is a consequence of her relentless efforts to support her spouse. Delia works especially hard on Sundays to prepare for the week ahead. “You’ve gone to fur, Sykes,” Zora Hurston remarks. I’ve been married to you for fifteen years and working with you for fifteen. Sweat! Sweat! “Work and sweat, cry and curse, pray and sweat!” (1023). Delia sweats every day since it is so vital in her life. Delia is self-sufficient and does not require Sykes to care after her. “Hurston emphasizes the importance of women’s unselfish devotion,” Susan Meisenhelder writes (282). The self-sufficient Delia does not need a lazy and abusive husband. Delia’s sweat represents both her physical and mental efforts in her marriage. As Delia struggles to achieve freedom, she sweats. However, Delia’s clothes are as important in her search for autonomy.

Clothes are a key symbol in “Sweat”. Hurston outlines Delia’s procedure to complete the clothing at the story’s start. Sykes interrupts her sorting and stomps on the whitest pile. “He walked across the room, kicking the whitest pile of things he could find” (Hurston 1023). Sykes unfolds and steps on the whitest pile, despite her difficult job. White represents Delia’s character and value. The way Delia whitens laboriously symbolizes her innate goodness (69). The whitest pile of clothes represents Delia’s purity. Sykes stepping on her clothes symbolizes his lack of regard for her and his evil nature. It also shows he is only concerned about the money she makes, not the quality of her work. Sykes filths the laundry, symbolizing the opposite of Delia’s purity. Laundry represents Delia’s livelihood. Delia washes clothes every day for Sykes and herself. Since Delia is self-sufficient, this is a significant step towards her freedom. However, in “Sweat,” the snake represents Delia’s liberation.

Another key symbol of Delia’s emancipation is the snake Sykes brings home. The snake is a potent symbol that represents a variety of things, the most of which are negative. Delia is terrified of the snake Sykes brings home because Hurston portrays her as a chaste lady. Sykes also knows how much Delia despises snakes, so he takes use of that to frighten her away. “Syke! Oh, my goodness! Get rid of the rattlesnake! You’ve got it. Jesus, have some mussy! 1026 Houston The snake is used by the author to contrast Sykes’ depravity with Delia’s innocence. By bringing the snake inside the house, Sykes brings evil into the house. Sykes uses the snake to frighten Delia and assert his power over her. Delia is scared of snakes and demands that they be destroyed right away. The whip’s look frightens her, as does her detest and dread of snakes, which she associates with vice (607). Delia is terrified of the snake because she is a God-fearing, respectable lady. Finally, the snake symbolizes Delia’s dagger, which allows her to escape her violent husband. Delia is set free after the snake kills Sykes.

The Chinaberry is also a key emblem in “Sweat”. The tree is crucial because it represents Delia’s independence and brings her serenity now that Sykes is gone. Sykes groans from a snake bite under the Chinaberry tree. Delia is finally safe with the Chinaberry. [T]he icy river was coming up to destroy her eye (Hurston 1030). Delia gains her independence through her husband’s death. Delia is now 15 years free of abuse and hardships. Delia learns from the Chinaberry. Delia (Eve) learns at the chinaberry tree (51). That Delia is no longer confined. So this relates to Adam and Eve’s shop. Delia’s faith overpowers Sykes’ might. So says the Chinaberry tree. Delia finally saw a way forward.

Women’s liberation was symbolically achieved in Zora Neale Hurston’s “Sweat” during the Harlem Renaissance. Sweat depicts a time when women were generally viewed as household leaders. This symbolism represents Delia’s existence as an oppressed woman, similar to Hurston’s. Hurston, like other authors, draws on personal experience. Hurston employs symbolic language to convey her message without preaching. Hurston also used elaborate symbolism to portray Delia’s daily struggles and how she overcame them. Delia’s sweat represented her effort. Laundry symbolized Delia’s purity and survival. The snake represented evil and Sykes’ personality, whereas the chinaberry tree represented Delia’s independence and tranquility when Sykes left. If one is dedicated and determined, one can achieve anything. Delia and the symbols show that women can overcome adversity and triumph. Delia also showed that women can support themselves and their families without a man’s help. Delia endured abuse for 15 years and now has confidence, pride, and independence.

Works Cited

Carter, Catherine. “The God in the Snake, the Devil in the Phallus: Biblical Revision and Radical Conservatism in Hurston’s “Sweat” Mississippi Quarterly, vol. 67, no. 4, Fall2014, pp. 605-620.

EBSCOhost Hurston, Zeale N. Sweat. The Oxford Book of American Short Stories. Oxford University Press, 1992

Ryan, B. “In/visible Men: Hurston, “Sweat” and Laundry Icons.” American Studies, vol. 51 no. 1, 2010, pp. 69-88. Project MUSEdoi:10.1353/ams.2010.0062

Wald, Priscilla. “Becoming ‘Colored’: The Self-Authorized Language of Difference in Zora

Neale Hurston.” American Literary History, vol. 2, no. 1, 1990, pp. 79–100. JSTOR, JSTOR,


Don't have time to write this essay on your own?
Use our essay writing service and save your time. We guarantee high quality, on-time delivery and 100% confidentiality. All our papers are written from scratch according to your instructions and are plagiarism free.
Place an order

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below:

Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Need a plagiarism free essay written by an educator?
Order it today

Popular Essay Topics