Differences In Treatment Of Women In Sweat By Zora Neal Hurston

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In the short story “Sweat”, Zora Neal Hurston tells the story of Delia Jones, a woman who works hard to maintain her home and lifestyle. Throughout the story, we see that Delia is overworked and unappreciated while her husband Sykes, lazes around and carelessly spends their money. “Sweat” is written by Hurston as a critique of the differences in treatment of women and men. Hurston uses Delia’s struggles with Sykes specifically to show the plight of women and the effect that gender roles have regardless of race or class.

The differences between Delia and Sykes are evident from the beginning of the story. Delia is hardworking and responsible as she, “squatted in the kitchen floor beside the great pile of clothes, sorting them…”,
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The men that she passes on her way to collect and drop off the washing are evidence of this. They describe Delia in her younger years as a “pretty lil trick”, who has been beaten ugly by Sykes (3). While they converse about Sykes wrongdoings they all agree that Delia has to continue to work hard, “…if she wanter eat” (3). Throughout their conversation one mentions that they would have married Delia because of her looks, but from the tone of voice when Walter Thomas says, “it’s too bad”, we see that has changed (3).

The men are so disgusted with Sykes and his behavior that they feel, “there oughter be a law about him” (3). They are all in agreement that Sykes is wrong, and that Delia deserved better, but they never act on their thoughts to deal with Sykes. The men of “Sweat” have no real obligations and spend their time relaxing and enjoying themselves while the women like Delia continue to work themselves into the ground. They vocalize what her role is and what she has to do to keep going but they don’t mention to Sykes what he needs to do even when they see him and talk to
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These womanly qualities of caring and empathy that Delia had despite Sykes’ horrible treatment of her could not save him. This woman was supposed to stand by her husband and care for him until his death as dictated by their culture and their society and that is what she did. Delia may not have liked Sykes but they would have been very unlikely to divorce because of stigma and being abused. By having Sykes die in the manner that he did Hurston gives Delia her freedom while allowing her to maintain her place as a woman in her society that does not have to worry about people treating her differently because she left her

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