Short Story Sunday: “Sweat” by Zora Neale Hurston

It’s Black History month and as Latino and an American citizen, I believe it’s important that we embrace the work that African Americans bring to us and that includes this short story: Sweat.

The short story focuses on Delia, a wash-woman for White people, and her abusive husband Skyes. Delia is a hard working woman as she works hard for her household. She says, “Sweat, sweat, sweat! Work and sweat, cry and sweat, pray and sweat!” That all she does as she’s unappreciated by her husband who scares her with a wip, making Delia believe its a snake (something she’s highly fearful of), while she’s busy cleaning clothes. He mocks her, he makes fun of her, and is unfaithful to her. Yep, Skyes is a cheater.

The rest of the story talks about how nobody in the town like Skyes, how Skyes is always with his mistress Bertha and the whole plot goes down hill when Skyes brings in a rattlesnake into the house. Delia begs for Skyes to take it away and he responds with, “he’s gointer stay right heah tell he die. He wouldn’t bite me cause Ah knows how tuh handle ‘im. Nohow he wouldn’t risk breakin’ out his fangs ‘gin yo’ skinny laigs.” Until later in the story, the snake bites him in the neck and he’s crying for help, and Delia is outside minding her own business, waiting for him to die. Congrats Skyes! You played yourself. The end.

What I love about this story is how Zora Neale Hurston, uses African American dialect to tell a story. Hurston has the ability to show characterization through dialogue rather than narration. In the story, I was able to understand the type of woman Delia is by the way she stood up to her husband. I was able to understand the ignorance in Skyes voice when he talked to Delia.

This is a piece of work that must go unnoticed as Hurston is unapologetically herself and uses African American dialect to tell a story rather than “writing like a white woman.”

This short story talks about the perseverance of the black woman, biting the thorns that men give to her, and stand up on their own. Delia is a woman who sweats all day during work, beats to the drum of her own drum, who got the courage to her end her marriage, and let her husband die because he deserved it.

Favorite Quotes:

“Naw you won’t,” she panted, “that ole snaggle-toothed black woman you runnin’ with aint comin’ heah to pile up on mah sweat and blood. You aint paid for nothin’ on this place, and Ah’m gointer stay right heah till Ah’m toted out foot foremost.”

“He’s full uh frogs so he caint hardly move, thass how. Ah eased up on ‘m. But Ah’m a snake charmer an’ knows how tuh handle ’em. Shux, dat aint nothin’. Ah could ketch one eve’y day if Ah so wanted tuh

A surge of pity too strong to support bore her away from that eye that must, could not, fail to see the tubs. 

Read this 20 Minute short story here:

What are your favorite parts from this short story? Let’s start a conversation down below in the comments section!

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