Discussing “Sweat”

Sweat is a heavy story. Huston paints a picture of the life of an abused woman, Delia Jones, and her abuser Sykes. Delia is a washwoman who works hard all week to support her household. Sykes is her husband in name only. He puts all his effort into humiliating, terrorizing, and abusing Delia. There is no redeeming characteristic in him and there does not need to be one.

This is not a happily ever after story. Even when Delia is freed from the abuse of Sykes, it is at a cost that will have an effect on her life. Yet, Hurston tells this story in a way that it is not overly sad and depressing. While the story will pull on your emotions, it does not come off as melodramatic or predictable.

Joe Clark’s store makes an appearance along with the men who sit on the porch. It is interesting that the men all agree that Sykes is a man who needs killin’ and even seem to agree on a plan to do it. However, nothing comes of this plan and the men return to their lounging and pontificating.

Hurston probably knew women like Delia, and this was her way of capturing their story. Zora does it with mastery. You can imagine yourself watching each tragic scene while you hope for an intervention for Delia.

This is not the story to read if you are sensitive to stories about domestic abuse. There are too many triggers and for your own mental health, pass this one by. In Sweat, Hurston captures the story of women who worked and labored so hard that their entire house was infused with their sweat, their tears, and their disappointments.

More discussions of Hurston's short stories.