Zora Neale Hurston

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Themes and Colors
Domestic Abuse Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
Hard Work vs. Entitlement Theme Icon
Race and Class Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Sweat, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Domestic Abuse

In “Sweat,” Hurston clearly and directly condemns domestic abuse. Her condemnation functions in two ways. First, she depicts Delia and Sykes’ marriage as being wrecked by Sykes’ emotional and physical abuse. Second, she uses the viewpoints of other men in the town to also criticize Sykes’ behavior. In this way, Hurston does not allow abuse to be portrayed as the inevitable product of a patriarchal society. Instead, she shows it, quite simply, to be…

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Christian belief plays a major role in “Sweat,” both in the characters’ lives and words, and in the way that the story itself interacts with Biblical stories. This is particularly clear in the way faith serves as a source of emotional support for Delia, how Sykes hypocritically uses Christian ideals to assert social control over Delia, and the Biblically-inflected concept of justice that unfolds over the course of the story. Ultimately, Hurston uses “Sweat”…

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Hard Work vs. Entitlement

“Sweat” is structured around the contrast between Delia and her husband Sykes, and nothing is more basic to that contrast than their attitudes towards work. Through these two characters, Hurston affirms the value of hard work as a foundation for both moral integrity and survival under difficult conditions. Likewise, she condemns Sykes’ sense of lazy entitlement as morally bankrupt.

Hard work is associated with integrity and worthiness in “Sweat.” The fact that Delia has…

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Race and Class

While “Sweat” is closely focused on the troubled relationship between Delia and Sykes, it is also set in a poor, all-black town in segregated 1920s Florida. The theme of race and class, although it is not a central part of the story’s plot, inevitably comes into play in such a setting. Zora Neale Hurston uses this aspect of the story to explore the effects of race and class as it impacts the couple and…

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