All through literature and stories, words and characters will always represent different meanings and symbols. Readers will continue to venture deeper and deeper into the meanings of the words a writer puts on paper. The writer of the story may not even have a deeper meaning to the writing but we as humans have a need to explore. The short story known as “Sweat” by Zora Neale Hurston may also be one of those types of stories. The short English literature story “Sweat,” written by Zora Neale Hurston, shows Sykes as the husband of the leading character Delia in the story. During the story it seems as though Sykes gets easily upset and angered at his wife Delia. Sykes takes his frustration out on Delia all throughout the story by hurting her physically, cheating with another woman, and teasing her with one of her biggest frights, which are snakes. Even though Sykes’ behavior should not be accepted or followed, he possibly could show signs of a mental problem that is not fully addressed or dug into during the story. Sykes may also feel threatened because Delia is the sole provider of the house. He wants to feel as if he still has the “man” power and control over the marriage. More often than once he tries to take Delia and make her feel lesser to him as he feels it should be.
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During this time many women may have backed down after being yelled at or threatened by their husbands but Delia did not back down however. She took a stand against Sykes by saying to him,”Mah tub of suds is filled yo’ belly with vittles more than yo’ hands is filled it. Mah sweat is done paid for this house and Ah reckon Ah kin keep on sweatin’ in it” (Hurston 408). In the story the reader can almost tell and feel that Sykes also does not want to be reminded that he was unsuccessful in making a complete family or the fact that he has failed to take care and provide for his family. Betty Nosam writes in the book, “Sweat, Looking for a Man`s place”, “In Sweat, the husband named Sykes is frequently exposed to his let down and failures to provide for his family, his wife by her recurring talks of ‘her’ carriage, pony, other physical items” (Nosam 66).
Hollering, screaming and yelling all seem to fail, which will make Sykes feel the need to resort to other means of making Delia listen, violence. All Through the story Sykes will be threatening Delia and informing her that he will hit her physically in one way or another. Author of the book, forming a Straight punch with a curved fist, Loren Bruckheimer, will explain how, “Zora Neale Hurston uses descriptions of the whip to propose a people of manliness expressed in an over powering nature and deeply seeded in ethnic tyranny” (Bruckheimer 44). This would imply that Sykes hits Delia only because the only way of manliness that he has known is the kind that the white townsmen seem to portray.
During the times when white males beat African Americans, the white males would have complete control and would appear better. This in return would make the black men want the exact same feeling of power and total control, so they demanded respect, power and authority within their own houses. In society the black men would be rejected respect which in return would make them demand it more and more in their homes to reassure themselves of their control, domination, power and most of all manhood.
Over time though, like anything that sub comes to suppression over a period, the women and wives would begin to let their voices be heard back to their husbands, like Delia started doing to her husband Sykes, which would lead to hugely surprised thoughts and questions by their husbands. The men at first would believe that because that because they were hurting and bringing violence toward their women or wives, the women should hide, cower and be completely loyal to them at all times. Debbie C. Hallace goes on to say in her book Forming our own Thoughts, “It shall be that movement of verbal communication that ‘talking back,’ will be no mere signal of hollow letters and characters that is the appearance of our association from thing to issue” (Hallace 11).
Delia knowing her importance and actual power in the relationship needed to let Sykes understand how much in reality he really needed and survived on her. So in return she took a stand and let her opinions fly in response to the threats and response`s Sykes let out.
Later on in the story Sykes will develop a relationship or better yet a mistress who is called Bertha who he will shower with gifts and presents instead of his own wife. One would believe that by having another relationship it would make him feel manlier because he sees himself as more desirable and wanted if he has two women around him. Sykes will start to take Bertha out on the town and shower her with everything she asks. Sykes will tell her, “Everything b’longs tuh me an’ you sho kin have it. You kin git anything you wants. Dis is mah town an’ you sho’ kin have it” (Hurston 411). By providing for Bertha and giving her every want and desire that she requires , it will in return make Sykes feel like a man and in control again.
Sykes will feel like he has gained most of his power back when he does something unexpected to Delia. He will go about by using her biggest worry and fear against her, inside their own house. As we are told earlier in the story, Delia is a very strong woman but like most anyone, has a fear of something and that fear is of snakes. Sykes will use that fear against his own wife in full head on force. He will proceed to bring a snake into their home inside of cage to use against Delia to presumably put her back in line as a house wife. Moments after Delia has seen the snake a fire that has been slowly burning within her will grow a little more and Delia will say to Sykes, “Sykes, Ah wants you tuh take dat snake ‘way fum heah. Ah put up widcher, you done beat me an Ah took dat, but you done kilt all mah insides bringin’ dat varmint heah” (Hurston 413). By bringing this snake into the house Delia has felt the ultimate betrayal and hate that Sykes must have for her. Delia feels that Sykes has now sunk to low and will begin to change inside, not only her feelings about Sykes but her feelings as woman. Sykes being the way he is has a nonchalant attitude and will tell Delia, “A whole lot Ad keer ’bout how you feels inside uh out. Dat snake aint goin no damn wheah till Ah gits ready fuh ‘im tuh go. So fur as beatin’ is concerned, yuh aint took near all dat you gointer take ef yuh stay ‘roun me” (413).
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This will almost instantly let the reader know that Sykes will go to any lengths or measures to get Delia out of the house. This will make the reader wonder if Sykes has realized he will no longer have the domination or control he once had over Delia and has completely lost his power as a man over her. In Return, one would assume that his mistress Bertha would proceed to move into the home with Sykes so he may once again relive and regain his sense of manliness.
In the end Sykes will accomplish his mission of scaring Delia to the core when she is doing her laundry only to revile that the snake is in the basket with the laundry. Bruckheimer explains in her writings that, “The husband Sykes productively frightens Delia, â€¦his beginning of manliness is eventually negative and deadly for him” (102).
Sykes will ultimately find that he has gotten the upper hand and it is only a matter of time before he can start over with Bertha and regain his lost control over a household. In the end of course, his plan will return to haunt him and backfire. Sykes will return to his home one evening without any signs of Delia and eventually be bitten by the snake and Sykes will die. Readers will almost instantly feel that Sykes got what he deserved after this event and they have good reason for this. Sykes treated Delia wrong for many years and she put up his mistreatment and abuse, even though after he does she does feel a sense of pity for him. Believing Sykes got what he deserved makes the reader think that his death was the moral of the story but, Betty Nosam says “a person ought to contain sympathy after a male, whose whole life form is formed by the path in which he is meant to supply for a family, is not capable to pull together the demands of their family, the general public, and most significantly what he wants out of himself” (56).
“Sweat” showed that it was not only a story about a person harming his wife to gain power and normal stability in his home, but a telling of a struggle about a person, a man, to have his own rightful place in an average, normal society at the time. In a criticism article written by Stephanie Calcker, “Zora Neale Hurston had the belief that the resist with racial discrimination is sufficient for blacks powers to the thought that the final and last object wanted by black men at that time was to put below and deeper down by the black women” ( Calcker 201).
So in conclusion one can see that Hurston not only wanted us to see struggles in African American women’s lives but also in men’s by showing us that society as always has expectations. Sykes was turned by the society of his time so he felt unaccepted and not in his right mindset or proper place during that time. So it is safe to assume that Sykes along with many other African American men were trapped by the social expectations of what they should be in that time period and had to come to their own realization of it.
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