Foreshadowing and Irony in “Sweat” by Zora Neale Hurston

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The short story “Sweat,” by Zora Neale Hurston, seems to exemplify the epitome of a bad marriage. Hurston uses foreshadowing and irony to demonstrate the disintegrated relationship between the abusive husband and the diligent wife. Throughout the story, it becomes obvious that the husband does not oblige by the motto, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Hurston’s use of irony and foreshadowing helps reveal the fact that “the good will prevail” and Sykes will finally get what he deserves.

From the very beginning, the reader notices the psychological and verbal abuse that Sykes puts on Delia. It was a Sunday and Delia decided to get ahead on her work for the week by separating piles of clothes by color. Fear then came upon her when “…something long, round, limp, and black fell upon her shoulder and slithered to the floor beside her” (355). Sykes’ bull whip, mistaken for a snake, invokes “great terror” (355) and extreme fear in Delia, foreshadowing an event that is to come in the future. It also demonstrates the distant relationship between Sykes and Delia. With full knowledge of Delia’s fear of snakes, Sykes continues to haunt her with them throughout the story. While Delia falls to the oppression of her husband, Sykes almost commits these acts as torture. Because of Hurston’s strong use of irony, it is evident that one day Delia will prevail and a clue to Sykes’ fate is provided: that one day he will be haunted by a snake as well.

Delia is obviously the breadwinner of the family and works hard to support both herself and Sykes. Unfortunately, Sykes takes this for granted by taking advantage of the free housing while saving his rarely earned money to spend on other women. Fully aware of this, Delia mentions that “…whatever goes over the Devil’s back is got to come under his belly. Sometime or ruther, Syke, like everybody else, is gointer reap his sowing” (357). The use of irony here demonstrated that “what goes around, comes...
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