The story of "Sweat" by Zora Neale Hurston is filled with many moral and religious symbols. This story is about an everyday Black, woman in the South and how she keeps to her faith in God to see her through the hell she endures dealing with an abusive husband. Throughout this story there are several religious symbols that show how Delia and Sykes are two people on a different moral spectrum when it comes to good and evil, and how good always prevails.
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Delia Jones literally works her hands to the bone, and she uses her beliefs in God to shield her from her husband's barrage of every type of abuse imaginable. From the very beginning of the story, Delia shows how she takes pride in her work, her small personality, and her strong faith in God. Delia is shown as being battered down and physically weak from the years of work and abuse from Sykes, yet she is still strong in her faith. Throughout the story it talks about her worn hands and knees we can assume its from the weekends washing clothes and the quanity."She collected the soiled clothes on Saturday when she returned the clean things. Sunday night after church, she sorted them and put the white things to soak. It saved her almost a half day's start. A great hamper in the bedroom held the clothes that she brought home. It was so much neater than a number of bundles lying around"(Hurston 133). From the years of doing this she has lost the beauty she had once possesed.
Completely opposite of Delia's character is her husband, Sykes. He is physically abusive toward his wife, and he takes advantage of their marriage by spending all of Delia's money she gets from washing clothes on his mistress, Bertha. While Sykes is physically strong, he is spiritually weak. He shows that he is spiritually weak by belittling Delia every chance he gets. (Hurston 133). This probably the most prevalent case of Sykes trying to compensate from his lack spirituality.
Certain objects and situations in the story suggest the influence of religion. The white clothes Delia washes in the story are symbolic of her character. White represents her worth and saintly ways as she handles Sykes' torture. Whenever Sykes stomps on Delia white clothes and makes them dirty shows his inability to accept anything that is pure and related to the lord. The religious connection of Sykes is his use of snakes and evil, shown twice in this story. Sykes uses a whip to scare Delia by rubbing it on her shoulder and making her think it is a snake. This is when it is first shown how petrified of snakes Delia is. She screams, 'Sykes, why you throw dat whip on me like dat? You know it would skeer me looks just like a snake, an' you knows how skeered Ah is of snakes'(Hurston 133). Also, later in the story Sykes places a real snake near the front door hiding it in a soapbox to scare Delia. These two examples of using the snake can be used as a biblical example from the story of Adam and Eve when Satan took the form of a snake. Also, from this reference it shows that the story clearly makes Sykes out to be an inherently evil character. Sykes calls himself a "snake charmer" which could be in relation to the devil being able to take on the character of a snake.
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The pattern of good and evil in this story comes down to a well set up and clever conclusion. Sykes' own violent actions towards Delia throughout the story end up being his demise. In the end when the snake that Sykes uses to scare Delia gets loose and she flees the house, Sykes' enters the house unknowingly and makes way too much noise in the kitchen and the snake bites him. The sun starts to come up rather quickly after he has been bitten. The sunrise is symbolic of Delia's freedom from Sykes and all the evil and bad things he represents. When Sykes is dead, the sun has finally risen and Delia gets the independence that she deserves. This happening also shows that it is a new day and Delia gets the chance she has always wanted to get her fresh start. "Jurden water, black an' col' Chills de body, not de soul An' Ah wantah cross Jurden in uh calm time." (Hurston 141). The Israelites had to cross this river to get to the promise land, which is similar to what Delia had to go through when dealing with Sykes.
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