Sweat

by

Zora Neale Hurston

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Sykes Character Analysis

Sykes is Delia’s abusive husband and the antagonist of “Sweat.” He first appears in the story by playing a nasty trick on Delia, and this event proves to represent his character as a whole. He has spent most of their marriage abusing Delia both physically and emotionally, and when she finally begins to defend herself, he does not know how to respond. He soon takes a mistress named Bertha and shows off around town with her. Sykes is so determined to hurt Delia and take the house that he resorts to unsafe extremes—like bringing a rattlesnake into the house to scare her off—which eventually lead to his own death.

Sykes Quotes in Sweat

The Sweat quotes below are all either spoken by Sykes or refer to Sykes. 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:

“Look in de box dere Delia, Ah done brung yuh somethin’!”

She nearly fell upon the box in her stumbling, and when she saw what it held, she all but fainted outright.

“Sykes! Sykes, mah Gawd! You take dat rattlesnake ‘way from heah! You gottuh. Oh, Jesus, have mussy!”

“Ah aint gut tuh do nuthin’ uh de kin’—fact is Ah aint got tuh do nothin’ but die....”

Related Characters: Sykes (speaker)
Related Symbols: Snakes
Page Number: 80
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

Sykes Character Timeline in Sweat

The timeline below shows where the character Sykes 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
...a Sunday night, Delia Jones, a hardworking washerwoman, is sorting the week’s laundry. Her husband, Sykes, returns home and plays a nasty trick on her with his horsewhip, which resembles a... (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... (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 herself.... (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.... (full context)
Domestic Abuse Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
Race and Class Theme Icon
...group of village men who are gathered on the shop’s porch begin discussing Delia and Sykes. They comment on Delia’s hard work and condemn Sykes for his abuse and infidelity. They... (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... (full context)
Domestic Abuse Theme Icon
Hard Work vs. Entitlement Theme Icon
Race and Class Theme Icon
...share. Everyone chips in and they are about to slice up a large melon when Sykes and his mistress Bertha appear. A hush falls on the porch and the men hide... (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... (full context)
Domestic Abuse Theme Icon
Hard Work vs. Entitlement Theme Icon
...after, the narrator states that Bertha has now been in town for three months, and Sykes is paying for her room in a boarding house (the only one that will take... (full context)
Domestic Abuse Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
Hard Work vs. Entitlement Theme Icon
Race and Class Theme Icon
...has tried to ignore the situation, but Bertha keeps coming by the house. Delia and Sykes fight constantly. (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 box by the kitchen door—seemingly in... (full context)
Domestic Abuse Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
...becomes more active and begins rattling its tail. Delia gets angry and once again tells Sykes to take the snake away, saying that she will not stand for this treatment. Sykes... (full context)
Domestic Abuse Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
...snake is absent from its box, and she is struck with the sudden hope that Sykes might have had a change of heart. She goes to strike a match for light... (full context)
Domestic Abuse Theme Icon
Delia awakens to hear Sykes destroying the snake’s box in the pre-dawn light. She watches him linger outside the kitchen... (full context)
Domestic Abuse Theme Icon
...that the rattlesnake is a “ventriloquist” and can be hard to locate from sound alone. Sykes hears nothing until he knocks a pot lid down trying to find a match. He... (full context)
Domestic Abuse Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
Sykes freezes for a moment, then begins moving again and, hearing the rattlesnake, leaps onto the... (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 the snakebite. She feels an... (full context)