Sweat

by

Zora Neale Hurston

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Sweat can help.

Delia Jones Character Analysis

Delia is the protagonist and main character of “Sweat.” A hardworking middle-aged black woman, she makes her living washing other people’s clothes. Delia is married to the lazy and abusive Sykes. Her many years of work and suffering have stolen her former beauty, leaving her with “knotty, muscled limbs” and “hard, knuckly hands.” Although she married Sykes for love, she has come to realize that all she can hope for now is some measure of peace. She wants to spend the rest of her life in the little home that she has earned through her hard work. She has a deep fear of snakes that Sykes exploits to torment her. Delia attends church regularly and turns to Christianity for comfort through her abusive relationship. She maintains a Christ-like attitude of patient suffering, although she is willing to defend herself from Sykes when he goes too far.

Delia Jones Quotes in Sweat

The Sweat quotes below are all either spoken by Delia Jones or refer to Delia Jones. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Domestic Abuse Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Harper Perennial edition of Sweat published in 2008.
Sweat Quotes

Sykes, what 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... You aint got no business doing it. Gawd knows it’s a sin. Some day Ah’m gointuh drop dead from some of yo’ foolishness.

Related Characters: Delia Jones (speaker), Sykes
Related Symbols: Snakes
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:

Delia’s habitual meekness seemed to slip from her like a blown scarf. She was on her feet; her poor little body, her bare knuckly hands bravely defying the strapping hulk before her.

“Looka heah, Sykes, you done gone too fur. Ah been married to you fur fifteen years, and Ah been takin’ in washin fur fifteen years. Sweat, sweat, sweat! Work and sweat, cry and sweat, pray and sweat!”

Related Characters: Delia Jones (speaker), Sykes
Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:

Oh, well, whatever goes over the Devil’s back, is got to come under his belly. Sometime or ruther, Sykes, like everybody else, is gointer reap his sowing.

Related Characters: Delia Jones (speaker), Sykes
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:

Taint no law on earth dat kin make a man be decent if it aint in ‘im. There’s plenty men dat takes a wife lak dey do a joint uh sugar-can. It’s round, juicy an’sweet when dey gits it. But dey squeeze an’ grind, squeeze an’ grind an’ wring tell dey wring every drop uh pleasure dat’s in ‘em out. When dey’s satisfied dat dey is wrung dry, dey treats ‘em jes lak dey do a cane-chew. Dey thows ‘em away. Dey knows whut dey is doin’ while dey is at it, an’ hates theirselves fuh it but they keeps on hangin’ after huh tell she’s empty. Den dey hates huh fuh bein’ a cane-chew an’ in de way..

Related Characters: Joe Clarke (speaker), Delia Jones, Sykes
Page Number: 77-78
Explanation and Analysis:

Sho’ you kin have dat lil’ ole house soon’s Ah kin git dat ‘oman outa dere. Everything b’longs tuh me an’ you sho’ kin have it. Ah sho’ ‘bominates uh skinny ‘oman. Lawdy, you sho’ is got one portly shape on you! you kin git anything you wants. Dis is mah town an’ you sho’ kin have it.

Related Characters: Sykes (speaker), Delia Jones, Bertha
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

Delia’s work-worn knees crawled over the earth in Gethsemane and up the rocks of Calvary many, many times during these months. She avoided the villagers and meeting places in her efforts to be blind and deaf. But Bertha nullified this to a degree, by coming to Delia’s house to call Sykes out to her at the gate.

Related Characters: Delia Jones, Sykes, Bertha
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

“Sykes, Ah wants you tuh take dat snake ‘way fum heah. You done starved me an’ Ah put up widcher, you done beat me an Ah took dat, but you done kilt all mah insides bringin’ dat varmint heah.”

[...] “A whole lot Ah keer ‘bout how you feels inside uh out. Dat snake aint goin’ no damn wheah till Ah gits ready fuh ‘im tuh go. So fur as beatin’ is concerned, yuh aint took near all dat you gointer take ef yuh stay ‘roun’ me.”

Delia pushed bad her plate and got up from the table. “Ah hates you, Sykes, she said calmly. “Ah hates you tuh de same degree dat Ah useter love yuh.”

Related Characters: Delia Jones (speaker), Sykes (speaker)
Related Symbols: Snakes
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:

Finally she grew quiet, and after that, coherent thought. With this, stalked through her a cold, bloody rage. Hours of this. A period of introspection, a space of retrospection, then a mixture of both. Out of this an awful calm.

“Well, Ah done de bes’ Ah could. If things aint right, Gawd knows taint mah fault.”

Related Characters: Delia Jones (speaker), Sykes
Related Symbols: Snakes
Page Number: 83
Explanation and Analysis:

Outside Delia heard a cry that might have come from a maddened chimpanzee, a stricken gorilla. All the terror, all the horror, all the rage that man could possibly express, without a recognizable human sound.

Related Characters: Delia Jones, Sykes
Related Symbols: Snakes
Page Number: 84-85
Explanation and Analysis:

A surge of pity too strong to support bore her away from that eye that must, could not, fail to see the tubs. He would see the lamp. Orlando with its doctors was too far. She could scarcely reach the Chinaberry tree, where she waited in the growing heat while inside she knew the cold river was creeping up and up to extinguish that eye which must know by now that she knew.

Related Characters: Delia Jones, Sykes
Related Symbols: Snakes
Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Sweat LitChart as a printable PDF.
Sweat PDF

Delia Jones Character Timeline in Sweat

The timeline below shows where the character Delia Jones appears in Sweat. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Sweat
Domestic Abuse Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
Hard Work vs. Entitlement Theme Icon
On a Sunday night, Delia Jones, a hardworking washerwoman, is sorting the week’s laundry. Her husband, Sykes, returns home and... (full context)
Domestic Abuse Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
Hard Work vs. Entitlement Theme Icon
Race and Class Theme Icon
Sykes redirects the conversation to reprimand Delia for bringing “white folks’ clothes” into the house, obviously trying to pick a fight. Delia... (full context)
Domestic Abuse Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
Hard Work vs. Entitlement Theme Icon
When his insults and interference fail to get a rise out of Delia, Sykes threatens her with physical violence. Delia abandons her meek posture and stands to defend... (full context)
Domestic Abuse Theme Icon
Hard Work vs. Entitlement Theme Icon
Delia finishes her work and goes to bed. She lies awake, remembering the hopeful early days... (full context)
Domestic Abuse Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
Thinking more about the ways that Sykes has wronged her, Delia concludes that he will eventually get what is coming to him. This thought helps her... (full context)
Domestic Abuse Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
Race and Class Theme Icon
The following Saturday, Delia is passing the town store with her pony and cart to deliver clean clothes. A... (full context)
Domestic Abuse Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
Several men lament the effects of Sykes’ abuse on Delia. They wonder about his preference for other women and about why he has treated her... (full context)
Domestic Abuse Theme Icon
Hard Work vs. Entitlement Theme Icon
Sykes makes a great show of ordering food for Bertha just as Delia drives past. He seems to enjoy flaunting his infidelity in public in order to hurt... (full context)
Domestic Abuse Theme Icon
Hard Work vs. Entitlement Theme Icon
...(the only one that will take her). Sykes promises to move Bertha into his and Delia’s house as soon as he can get Delia out of it. (full context)
Domestic Abuse Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
Hard Work vs. Entitlement Theme Icon
Race and Class Theme Icon
Delia, meanwhile, has been through a great deal of hard work and embarrassment. She has been... (full context)
Domestic Abuse Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
One hot day in August, Delia comes home to find that Sykes has caught a rattlesnake and placed it in a... (full context)
Domestic Abuse Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
...several days digesting its latest meal, it becomes more active and begins rattling its tail. Delia gets angry and once again tells Sykes to take the snake away, saying that she... (full context)
Domestic Abuse Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
The following day, Sunday, Delia goes to church in the next town over and stays for the evening service, which... (full context)
Domestic Abuse Theme Icon
Hard Work vs. Entitlement Theme Icon
Race and Class Theme Icon
Delia starts in on sorting her washing, but upon opening the laundry hamper, she is horrified... (full context)
Domestic Abuse Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
Delia climbs up onto the hay and stays there for hours, first deathly afraid, then enraged,... (full context)
Domestic Abuse Theme Icon
Delia awakens to hear Sykes destroying the snake’s box in the pre-dawn light. She watches him... (full context)
Domestic Abuse Theme Icon
Delia hears the snake rattling, and the narrator notes that the rattlesnake is a “ventriloquist” and... (full context)
Domestic Abuse Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
...for a moment, then begins moving again and, hearing the rattlesnake, leaps onto the bed. Delia then hears a horrible, almost inhuman cry, followed by more screams, and sees Sykes pull... (full context)
Domestic Abuse Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
Eventually Delia gets up and sees Sykes crawling out on hands and knees, his neck swollen from... (full context)