Many writers, in their literary problems, raise various critical social topics. Hence, in work “Sweat” by Zora Neale Hurston, the theme of love and marriage is raised. A short story tells about the toxic and abusive union of Delia and her husband, Sykes. Moreover, the author examines the influence of factors such as race, class, religion, and work on the union of men and women. Thus, this work is of particular value due to the fact that it provides insight into the fact that marriage does not always mean love and respect for each other. Moreover, the author shows how difficult it can be to decide on such a severe step when everything from the public to religion is against a person’s true desires.
First of all, it is necessary to disassemble the plot of the work for a better understanding of what the author wanted to convey. Therefore, a short story called “Sweat” tells the story of an unsuccessful marriage. The main heroine Delia is a black washwoman who lives with her unemployed husband in Florida. A woman works hard to provide for herself and her spouse, but her work remains devalued. Her husband is characterized by an abusive attitude toward his wife and constantly criticizes her for working for white people. Violence against Delia began almost immediately after the wedding when she was still young. She spent fifteen years in a toxic and unhappy marriage. Moreover, the husband of the main character, whose name is Sykes, constantly mocks and terrorizes her because of fear of snakes.
One day, unable to withstand constant infidelity and violence from the spouse, the woman decides to take critical measures and part with Sykes. However, she is not the only one with an insidious plan in her head. The husband develops a plan to kill his wife, deciding to throw a poisonous snake into her laundry basket. It is at this moment that fate decides to play into the hands of the main protagonist and the cold-blooded animal bites the instigator of the terrible act. An exciting aspect of the ending of the work is that Dilaya does not have even the slightest idea to help her husband and stop his torment. Instead, the woman just watches as the end comes to the person with whom she has spent most of her life in a relationship and marriage.
When reading the work, there is a clear feeling that the author sympathizes with the main character and feels sorry for her. Furthermore, this is not surprising because no reader will be able to remain indifferent to the stories of a poor woman who is so diligently doing everything to preserve an obviously abusive marriage with her husband. Moreover, in the times described in the short story, the black community’s representatives are disadvantaged and considered an insignificant and worthless part of the population. So, Delia works more than the allotted time, but this is not a matter of concern for anyone. People treat them with prejudice and much prejudice.
One of the main themes of this short story is the theme of love and marriage. These, at first glance, beautiful and positive aspects of the life of society in this work are presented as extremely difficult, painful, and unbearable years of the main character’s life. After all the violence and bullying that she experienced from her husband, it seems that the main character has lost faith in love and marriage. However, she tries to follow her religious views and beliefs without leaving her spouse but ultimately decides that her well-being is above all. Thus, we can say that this work is a vivid example of the fact that a woman should not tolerate abuse and disrespectful attitude and stop such an attitude towards herself as soon as possible.
Moreover, it is important to note the fact that the unfavorable situation in the family seriously affects the appearance of the heroine. Thus, Delia, after many years of neglect, became “knotty, muscled limbs” and “hard, knuckly hands” (Hurston 28). Hence, the author shows how much abusive and bullying attitudes can affect a person’s psychological and physical condition. In my opinion, Delia stayed with her husband for so long because of the self-doubt instilled in her and the blind desire to conform to the ideas of her faith. Perhaps she is possessed by a sense of hopelessness, which also prevents her from leaving a toxic relationship with her husband. She wholeheartedly wants to preserve what she has worked so long and hard for, but her dreams are not destined to come true. Despite the fact that she is against the religious views to which she herself adhered, she still retains such Christian qualities as submissive humility.
In addition, at the time in which the story takes place, divorce from the spouse was frowned upon. Moreover, such traits as a sacrifice, adjustment to circumstances, and commitment also prevent a woman from taking such a severe step to change the main female character’s life. Nevertheless, her steadfast and unshakable faith gives her the strength to make such a critical decision, despite the possible reaction from the society around her.
Furthermore, it can be concluded that marriage is influenced by many external and internal factors. Therefore, such an aspect as religion plays a special role in this work. The main character is a believing woman and follows the worldview of her religion, according to which marriage is a sacred union. However, the torments that she experiences in union with her husband do not allow her to live in peace, so she turns to faith as a motivator for immediate action. The following factors are class inequality and work, which determine the position of a person and the attitude of society towards him. Yet, she “never projects the white folks in her story in a negative light, instead, her focal point is on a toxic tyrannical relationship in which woman consequently comes out top” (Devika 52). As already mentioned, Dahlia worked as a laundress for white people, for which her husband constantly mocked her. Despite the fact that he himself does not have a job, he seemed to put himself on a par with the dominant race, humiliating his own wife.
The short story “Sweat” shows that the institution of marriage not only gives rewards to a person but can also take away a lot. For example, in the case of Dahlia and her husband, a woman sacrifices herself greatly for the sake of preserving the marriage. However, in this case, she repays not only with her health by working a huge number of hours at an unrecognized and not particularly profitable job. First of all, she sacrifices her mental state, suffering bullying and violence from her husband. Moreover, these aspects are supported by a similar attitude on the part of the public.
In addition, it can be concluded that the author is making an attempt to criticize marriage and love in a world where these concepts are over-idealized. Often, many literary works show the union of a man and a woman as a safe place where understanding, love, care, and mutual understanding prevail. However, in “Sweat,” the reader is presented with a completely different picture, which is rarely found in stories. Here, violence, disrespect, and horror prevail in marriage, and most importantly, there is no love between the spouses. Nevertheless, despite all this, social obligations and religious beliefs do not allow the main character Dahlia to take a step toward freeing herself from this oppression.
Marriage is an essential cultural instinct. It is a system of accepted norms and procedures for the implementation of certain functions of society. For example, the procedure of marriage is determined by different traditions and rituals in different countries. Moreover, many studies show that people attach great importance to this type of institution. This is conditioned by the fact that in the case of the conclusion of these mouths, the spouses prove that they have a certain level of development of emotional and economic requirements. The first aspect means that people have found the person most ideally suited to them mentally. The economic aspect is taken into account for the preservation of the resulting seed as a unit of society.
However, it is also worth noting that not all cases of marriage are successful. There may be quite difficult and poorly solved life situations, as happened with the main character of the short story. However, if people have faith, desire, and the right level of commitment, they can achieve stabilization of relations. Despite the fact that married life in the United States of America has become less stable, the majority of the population still agrees that marriage is valuable for individuals and society.
Moreover, there is an opinion that many people consider marriage as an opportunity for financial and emotional gain. Hence, residents of the United States of America are looking for a marriage that will increase their level of self-knowledge and personal growth. Thus, commitment is of particular importance to this institution. Therefore, people are looking for a motivator in their partner that will allow them to become better and improve the quality of their mental and physical health. Thus, it can be concluded that love in marriage certainly matters. However, qualities such as respect, trust, and commitment will help people significantly expand their knowledge in this area to increase their income.
The criticism of marriage in this short story is based on the opposition of evil and good. Therefore, sources note that “Delia’s retort is to Sykes and the snake fangs represent woman as the victim, not equal with man and the woman as a good character whereas man as a bad character” (Cahyani 9). This technique differentiates Delia and her husband, drawing a clear line between them. Hence, Sykes is a strong and quite violent character. He shows his power through intimidation, humiliation, beating, and ridicule of his chosen one. Delia, in turn, on the contrary, acts like a victim who is ready to endure anything just to save the marriage. Thus, the author shows the toxicity and abusiveness of such relationships to criticize the established institution of marriage.
Cahyani, Rizka. “Mind Style, Gender and Islamic Perspectives in Two Short Stories “A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell and “Sweat” by Zora Neale Hurston.” UIN Sunan Ampel Surabaya, 2019.
Devika, Ramana. “Defying Sexism in Zora Neale Hurston’s “Sweat.”” New Delhi Recognized Journal, vol. 6, no. 2, 2018, pp. 50-54.
Hurston, Zore N. Sweat. Rutgers University Press, 1997.