On Zora Neale Hurston's "Sweat".


At a time when Black and White relations were rather extreme in the United States, Zora Neale Hurston did not appear to be interested in feeling the oppression by White people. Indeed, she took pleasure in poking fun at the different situations of everyday life that this conflict brought. Consequently, her writing, although sometimes full of insight and dark humour, is not always centred on the matter of black and white relations. It emphasizes on more universal struggles such as conjugal violence, the subject of her short story "Sweat," published in 1928.

A compassionate narrator is telling the story of Delia Jones, a hardworking Black washwoman, and wife of a violent husband who is cheating on her. Delia is strong, for she stands up in words and in thoughts to the numerous bursts of violence from her husband: "You ain't paid for nothin' on this place, and Ah'm gointer stay right heah till Ah'm toted out foot foremost!" (1492). When she comes back from work on one day, her husband Sykes has brought in a big snake, which she is scared to death of. Nevertheless, Delia will stand up straight and overcome that fear. When we read Zora Neale Hurston's story with contemporary eyes, we realise that Delia is being very "avant-gardist" in her behaviour, for she is rebelling against an establishment that was very rarely disputed in the late 1920's, that is marital violence. When we extrapolate Hurston's story into a broader scheme, it becomes a very powerful story for women in general, for Zora Neale Hurston tried to relate her attitude of resistance to interracial conflicts, to the situation of women. "Sweat" is a very clever story, just like the choice of title. It portrays the life of a woman who would not be complicit with her pathetic husband's power trip.

Zora Neale Hurston


Born: 1891

Died: 1960


The Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation


Mission : Develop, nurture and sustain the world community of writers of African descent.



Guillaume Cyr 2001