Words And Characters Represent Different Meanings
All through literature and stories, words and characters will always represent different meanings and symbols. Readers will continue to venture deeper and deeper into the meanings of the words a writer puts on paper. The writer of the story may not even have a deeper meaning to the writing but we as humans have a need to explore. The short story known as sweat by Zora Neale Hurston may also be one of those types of stories. The short English literature story "Sweat," written by Zora Neale Hurston, shows Sykes as the husband of the leading character in the story.
During the story it seems as though Sykes gets easily upset and angered at his wife Delia. Sykes takes his frustration out on Delia all throughout the story by hurting her physically, cheating with another woman, and teasing her with one of her biggest frights, which are snakes. Even though Sykes' behavior should not be accepted or followed, he possibly could show signs of a mental problem that is not fully addressed or dug into during the story. Sykes may also feel threatened because Delia is the sole provider of the house. He wants to feel as if he still has the "man" power and control over the marriage.
More often than once he tries to take Delia and make her feel lesser to him as he feels it should be. Sykes shows his want to be in control at the very start of the story. Delia begins by trying to start her job washing clothes for what is assumed in the story mostly white townspeople. Sykes immediately starts to scream at Delia for one, working on Sunday and two for washing clothes for the mostly white townspeople. Delia ignores him and his yelling while continuing to sort the laundry. Sykes not one to be easily ignored, specifically by his wife, reacts to her quietness by saying, "Ah aint gointer have it in mah house. Don't gimme no lip neither, else Ah'll throw 'em out and put mah fist up side yo head to boot" (Hurston 408). Sykes will then start his acts of violence because Delia will not cooperate as he wants. By threatening her and overpowering her, this makes Sykes` feel as if he has put power back into his hands and is once again in total domination and control as he probably feels a man should be. During this time many women may have backed down after being yelled at or threatened by their husbands but Delia did not back down however.
She took a stand against Sykes by saying to him,"Mah tub of suds is filled yo' belly with vittles more than yo' hands is filled it. Mah sweat is done paid for this house and Ah reckon Ah kin keep on sweatin' in it" (Hurston 408). In the story the reader can almost tell and feel that Sykes also does not want to be reminded that he has failed to raise and make a successful family or the fact that he has failed to take care and provide for his family. Julie Mason says in, "Sykes' Struggle for Manhood," "In the story Sykes is constantly reminded of his failure to support his wife by her repeated references to 'her' carriage, 'her' pony, and so forth" (Mason 66). Hollering, screaming and yelling all seem to fail, which will make Sykes feel the need to resort to other means of making Delia listen, violence. All Through the story Sykes will be threatening Delia and informing her that he will hit her physically in one way or another.
Author of the book, Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick, Susan Meisenhelder, thinks, "Zora Neale Hurston uses phallic imagery of the whip to suggest a nation of masculinity expressed in soul crushing force and rooted in racial oppression" (44). This would imply that Sykes hits Delia only because the only way of manliness that he has known is the kind that the white townsmen seem to portray. During the times when white males beat African Americans, the white males would have complete control and would appear better. This in return would make the black men want the exact same feeling of power and total control, so they demanded respect, power and authority within their own houses. In society the black men would be rejected respect which in return would make them demand it more and more in their homes to reassure themselves of their control, domination, power and most of all manhood. Over time though, like anything that sub comes to suppress over a period, the women and wives would begin to let their voices be heard back to their husbands, like Delia started doing to her husband Sykes, which would lead to hugely surprised thoughts and questions by their husbands.
The men at first would believe that because that because they were hurting and bringing violence toward their women or wives, the women should hide, cower and be completely loyal to them at all times. Cheryl A.Wall goes on to say in her book Changing Our Own Words, "It is that act of speech of 'talking back,' that is no mere gesture of empty words that is the expression of our movement from object to subject-the liberated voice" (11). Delia knowing her importance and actual power in the relationship needed to let Sykes understand how much in reality he really needed and survived on her. So in return she took a stand and let her opinions fly in response to the threats and response`s Sykes let out. Later on in the story Sykes will develop a relationship or better yet a mistress who is called Bertha who he will shower with gifts and presents instead of his own wife.
One would believe that by having another relationship it would make him feel manlier because he sees himself as more desirable and wanted if he has two women around him. Sykes will start to take Bertha out on the town and shower her with everything she asks. Sykes will tell her, "Everything b'longs tuh me an' you sho kin have it. You kin git anything you wants. Dis is mah town an' you sho' kin have it" (Hurston 411). By providing for Bertha and giving her every want and desire that she requires , it will in return make Sykes feel like a man and in control again. Sykes will feel like he has gained most of his power back when he does something unexpected to Delia. He will go about by using her biggest worry and fear against her, inside their own house.
As we are told earlier in the story, Delia is a very strong woman but like most anyone, has a fear of something and that fear is of snakes. Sykes will use that fear against his own wife in full head on force. He will proceed to bring a snake into their home inside of cage to use against Delia to presumably put her back in line as a house wife. Moments after Delia has seen the snake a fire that has been slowly burning within her will grow a little more and Delia will say to Sykes, "Sykes, Ah wants you tuh take dat snake 'way fum heah. Ah put up widcher, you done beat me an Ah took dat, but you done kilt all mah insides bringin' dat varmint heah" (Hurston 413). By bringing this snake into the house Delia has felt the ultimate betrayal and hate that Sykes must have for her.
Delia feels that Sykes has now sunk to low and will begin to change inside, not only her feelings about Sykes but her feelings as woman. Sykes being the way he is has a nonchalant attitude and will tell Delia, "A whole lot Ad 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" (413). This will almost instantly let the reader know that Sykes will go to any lengths or measures to get Delia out of the house. This will make the reader wonder if Sykes has realized he will no longer have the domination or control he once had over Delia and has completely lost his power as a man over her.
In Return, one would assume that his mistress Bertha would proceed to move into the home with Sykes so he may once again relive and regain his sense of manliness. In the end Sykes will accomplish his mission of scaring Delia to the core when she is doing her laundry only to revile that the snake is in the basket with the laundry. Meisenhelder explains in her writings that, "Sykes successfully scares Delia, â€¦his conception of masculinity is ultimately destructive for him" (106). Sykes will ultimately find that he has gotten the upper hand and it is only a matter of time before he can start over with Bertha and regain his lost control over a household.
In the end of course, his plan will return to haunt him and backfire. Sykes will return to his home one evening without any signs of Delia and eventually be bitten by the snake and Sykes will die. Readers will almost instantly feel that Sykes got what he deserved after this event and they have good reason for this. Sykes treated Delia wrong for many years and she put up his mistreatment and abuse, even though after he does she does feel a sense of pity for him.
Believing Sykes got what he deserved makes the reader think that his death was the moral of the story but, Julie Mason says "one should have compassion when a man, whose entire being is dictated by the way in which he is able to provide for his family, is unable to meet the demands of his family, his society, and most importantly what he demands of himself" (68). "Sweat" showed that it was not only a story about a person harming his wife to gain power and normal stability in his home, but a telling of a struggle about a person, a man, to have his own rightful place in an average, normal society at the time. In criticism article written by S. Jay Walker, "Zora Neale Hurston had the opinion that the struggle with racism is enough for blacks energies to the belief that the last thing needed by black men at this time is being put down by the black women" (241). So in conclusion one can see that Hurston not only wanted us to see struggles in African American women's lives but also in men's by showing us that society as always has expectations.
Sykes was turned by the society of his time so he felt unaccepted and not in his right mindset or proper place during that time. So it is safe to assume that Sykes along with many other African American men were trapped by the social expectations of what they should be in that time period and had to come to their own realization of it.
Article name: Words And Characters Represent Different Meanings essay, research paper, dissertation