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“Sweat” — Zora Neale Hurston & The Husband Stitch Carmen Maria Machado

Comparative Synthesis Essay

Zora Neale Hurston published “Sweat,” a book about influential people in her life, in 1926. Civil rights organizations such as the National Urban League (NUL) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) gained significant power between 1924 and 1926. During a period of interracial association between sympathetic white Americans and the African American Talented Tenth, Zora Neale Hurston wrote “Sweat.”

Zora Hurston Symbolism abounds in “Sweat” by Neale Hurston, with some symbols being obvious and others necessitating further reflection. In Hurston’s story, the title “Sweat” serves as a major visual cue. Delia is shown to have a strong work ethic and to have faced difficulties in her relationship. Additionally, rattlesnakes are known for their reliability. The story revolves around the rattlesnake because of the way it links everything together. Hurston paints a picture of Delia as a hardworking woman who takes care of Sykes and herself throughout “Sweat. “Weeks pass, hot or cold, rain or shine,” Delia says (Hurston 532). Throughout her life, Delia has dedicated herself to her work and it shows in her sweat. By her work ethic, Delia demonstrated her pride in her job as a washwoman, no matter what the circumstances were. There is a symbol in Delia’s laundry room as well.

It was the whitest pile of items that he stomped on, kicking them all over the place haphazardly. ” Hurston Street, New York, New York 531 As if it were her own, she takes care of and protects it as if it were her own laundry. For this reason, Delia is portrayed as an African American during a difficult time in history because the laundry belongs to white people, not hers. While Delia is referred to as the “whitest pile of things,” Syke’s discoloration is a result of his evil intentions. The rattlesnake is the story’s most recognizable symbol (Hurston’s 530).

Sweat” is the story of Delia Jones, the protagonist of the novel by Zora Neale Hurston. Sykes Jones, Delia’s abusive husband, has been married to her for fifteen years. She appears to be an slender woman who has overworked herself because her shoulders appear to be drooping (Lowe 74). His wife’s snake phobia is exploited by Sykes, her husband

In ‘Sweat,’ she documents the circumstances that led to her husband’s death and the abuse he suffered at the hands of his mistresses. Many things make Delia a great example of a Black woman in the 1920s (Jones 85). Housemaids and laundry workers in predominantly white households were the most common jobs held by African American working-class women during this time period (Croft 21).

Delia was one of many African American women who had to work long hours and earn a pittance because of the prevailing conditions at the time (Miles 52). While it was common practice in the era, Sykes takes advantage of Delia and wastes her money because of it. To be a submissive wife was expected of African-American women who were often exploited even if they earned more than the men they were married to (Croft 21).

Racist publications of the time widely circulated white stereotypes about African Americans, such as Sykes’ fondness for curvy women and his penchant for excessive spending (Jones 84). Delia, on the other hand, is unique in that she is the sole breadwinner of her family, a role not shared by other black women at the time (Lowe 75).

Delia’s low self-esteem stemmed from Sykes’ verbal and physical abuse, so she ended up staying with him. This leaves Delia feeling as though she has no choice when it comes to trying to find a new love. After enduring the abuse for some time, she finally breaks down and confronts Sykes about it (Lowe 76).

The rattlesnake, like Syke, is regarded as evil from the beginning to the end of the story. In Syke’s mind, he had no remorse for scaring and threatening Delia. The snake symbolizes evil, and Syke’s demeanour and actions  reflect this. Hurston used symbolism as a central theme throughout the story “Sweat.” When Syke becomes a victim of his own wrongdoing, the story reaches its climax. Syke was killed by the rattlesnake that was supposed to attack Delia. Syke’s violent behavior would no longer affect her. It represents a woman’s gender and skin color-related strengths and experiences.

When Delia and her husband fell out of love, her only desire was to stay at the house she had worked for and attend church on Sundays. This means she may have no desire for other men and prefers being alone if Sykes and she cannot work out their differences” (Lowe 77). As a result, black authors during the Harlem Renaissance were forbidden from depicting negative traits like alcoholism and promiscuity in their works. At the end of the story, the author depicts Delia as a completely different character.

If she’s afraid of the snake, or if she’s willingly allowing her husband to die, it’s possible. As a result of her actions, Delia’s husband died, and the author appears to emphasize that Delia lacks a viable alternative to her situation. Thus, the author believes Delia’s demeanor reflects a sense of liberation and a rejection of traditional values, which are reflected in her attitude.

Carmen Maria Machado’s The Husband Stitch’s unnamed narrator, a self-proclaimed “teller of stories,” wears a green ribbon around her neck. Despite his insistence that his wife “should have no secrets,” she conceals a secret from him behind this ribbon. To keep herself from losing her head (literally), she repeatedly establishes that he and their son “can’t touch it,” but her fate is already predetermined because “brides never fare well in stories.” This essay argues that intertextuality – the relationship between literary texts – and literary referentiality in general serve as structural elements that encourage readers to draw parallels between the text’s references and the narrator’s life events. Various urban legends, myths, and retellings shape the story into a cautionary tale.

The first of these elements is the story’s resemblance to a classic coming-of-age novel. The 17-year-old narrator initiates the first contact by kissing her future husband and soon exclaims that she “know[s] that [they] are going to marry,” evoking Romeo and Juliet’s young and reckless love, which did not end happily. She admits that “teaching her boy” and initiating contact as a woman “aren’t how things are done,” but “this is how [she] will do them.” She is violating biblical gender roles by doing so: ” Everything that a woman does should be done in the service of her husband” (New International Version, Ephesians 5:24). This establishes a male figure as the dominant figure and a female figure as the submissive wife. Because of a disruption in the established order, her story ends tragically. The narrator is aware that her sexual curiosity, as well as her embrace of desire and attraction for her future husband, are potentially dangerous. She recalls a story about a woman who was punished for openly expressing her sexuality. The “magical thing” that caused that woman to be placed in “a sanitarium” piques the narrator’s interest. This “deviant pleasure” recalls the forbidden fruit from the biblical story of humanity’s fall, effectively transforming the narrator’s story into a cautionary tale about female desire.

In both stories we see the narrator is expected to love her husband despite his flaws and to love their son simply because she is his mother because she is his wife. She employs intertextuality directly in her retelling of a story about a “husband and wife killed by wolves”: their daughter was raised feral and was seen breastfeeding “two wolf cubs” that “bloodied her breasts.” She was still concerned about them because they were ostensibly her children. The narrator relates this story to her childbirth experience; she feels her baby clawing inside her stomach, and after delivering their son, an unmarked baby without a ribbon, the doctor performs the husband stitch, an unnecessary extra suture that is performed after a woman has given birth, sewing her up “nice and tight” to increase the husband’s sexual pleasure. Despite her son’s “poor tenant” status, which prevents her from “housing another” child, the narrator loves him despite all the pain inflicted on her, just as the feral woman loved her “children.” Apart from that, the narrator assures her that she loves him “more than [he] can possibly know,” even after he makes the perilous mistake of undoing her ribbon, revealing the fantastical truth about it: together. She recognizes that his goodness “is the source of [her] pain.” Condemning him would be easier if his positive values did not outweigh his obstinacy from time to time. Her ability to bear pain and forgive terrible mistakes elevates her to the status of a martyr, willing to sacrifice everything for her family.

Similar to the “Sweat” the narrator cautions us about the veracity of her stories; there are a few deceptive ones among the many cautionary tales, but ” Like raindrops in a pond, stories tend to blend into one another.” There is no way to tell them apart when they are alone because they are each as tall as a cloud post. She admits that it is impossible to pinpoint where the wrong morals are by emphasizing how some stories appear to seep into each other. This is how she pulls herself out of the story and warns us to read the text critically. Machado wants us to discover the morals for ourselves, transforming us into active readers who create their own interpretations and connections by attempting to understand the references she makes.

Work cited

Croft, Robert Wayne. A Zora Neale Hurston Companion. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002.

Machado, Carmen Maria. “The husband stitch.” Her Body and Other Parties (2017): 3-31.

Jones, Sharon Lynette. Rereading the Harlem renaissance: Race, class, and gender in the fiction of Jessie Fauset, Zora Neale Hurston, and Dorothy West. No. 207. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002.

Lillios, Anna. “Lowe, John.” Jump at the Sun: Zora Neale Hurston’s Cosmic Comedy”(Book Review).” Southern Quarterly 34.1 (1995): 153.

Miles, Diana Frances. Women violence and testimony in the works of Zora Neale Hurston. Emory University, 2000.

Hurston, Zora Neale. Sweat. Rutgers University Press, 1997.

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