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Swea by Zora Neale Hurston Review Essay

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Updated: Oct 26th, 2021

Introduction

Of all the great writers, artists and other literary figures who dotted the landscape of the Harlem Renaissance, Zora Neale Hurston is one of the most well known woman-writers, known for her searing portrayals of Negro life at the time. There was a certain rawness in her characters that left you in no doubt about their intense feelings of shame, hurt, repression and resignation that characterised their difficult lives. Sweat is no exception. R.S. Gwynn has put together as much of a literary treat as possible, by combining texts with helpful notes and other relevant information.

A touch of her own life

Hurston’s early life and initial experiences of racial discrimination have found their way into the story. There are quite a few similarities that are portrayed: one is the area in which the principal character of the book, resides. It is largely similar to the town in which Hurston spent her childhood, Eatonville. It was here that the White and Black communities were deeply mindful of the racial lines that were sharply drawn. The area in which the White people lived was inaccessible to those of the other community. It was a dream location where money flowed freely and one did not have to slog with chores at home or elsewhere for that matter. The second similarity is the relationship that Hurston shared with her employer – one of dependence that was based on this unquenchable thirst for recognition and acceptance. This is a recurring theme throughout the book.

Delia and her travails

Sweat is about the life and times of Delia, a black woman who does people’s laundry for a living. A church-going dutiful wife, she puts up with the all the abuse (both mental and physical) and philandering of her husband of fifteen years. She is literally at the end of her tether when her husband Sykes flaunts his latest woman on the one hand and exhibits sadistic traits by bringing a rattlesnake into the house, on the other. There are moments of revelation and surprise when Sykes realises that Delia could also be assertive, at times. The people of the town are witness to this appalling situation where cruelty and lack of feeling seem to be the principal emotions that are played out, day after tiring day. The story ends with Sykes being paid back in his own coin: the rattlesnake he brought in to scare his wife finds its way into his bed, only to fatally attack him. Delia does nothing to help him, though she is aware of his suffering and inevitable death. Sykes’ finally realizes that his wife is aware of his unavoidable death.

Conclusion – writing the Hurston way

By portraying Black life in all its stark reality, Hurston has developed an inimitable style of writing that recreates southern Black life as it existed then. Effects of racial prejudices, marital discord, one-upmanship and a host of other negativities are liberally sprinkled not just in Sweat, but in almost all other works of Hurston.

The grit that Delia displays in the face of all this oppression is the symbol of Black resistance that characterised the entire Harlem Renaissance – a theme that was closest to the heart of Zora Neale Hurston.

References

Gwynn, R.S. Literature: A Pocket Anthology. (Penguin Academics Series) III Edition. Longman. 2006.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Swea by Zora Neale Hurston Review." October 26, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/swea-by-zora-neale-hurston-review/.

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