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
The Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation
Mission : Develop, nurture and sustain the world community of writers of African descent.
Guillaume Cyr 2001