Tone of Zora Neale Hurston’s “Sweat”

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Zora Neale Hurston’s “Sweat” conveys the difficultly of being a black woman in the 1865 – 1965 time frame. In such a story the most crucial element must be the author’s tone. This tone is, of course, sympathetic. The character’s language and the situations posed by Hurston are conclusively the most important factors of the story’s tone.

Right from the beginning, the reader knows that the protagonist, Delia, is a diligent laborer whose job is apparently to clean her community’s laundry. But what give the most insight into Hurston’s tone thus far is the language and dialect the characters use. From the improper use of English and use of vulgar words such as "nigger" the reader assumes immediately that Delia is in a primarily black, uneducated, and likely poor environment. Along with the time setting of the story, this insinuates that she is stuck in her social status due to her race and gender. The reader can clearly see from these elements that the tone will most likely be sympathetic.

A certain pity for Delia is established by the author when Delia does the laundry. First Sykes comes home and rudely interrupts her work consistently by kicking about the clothes and claiming that “white folks’ clothes” are not allowed in the house. Here Hurston makes clear that Sykes burdens her by childishly seeking attention:

“She saw that Sykes had kicked all of the clothes together again, and now stood in her way truculently, his whole manner hoping, praying for an argument.”

This sentence alone appears to lock in Hurston’s tone and likely the reader’s mood of the remainder of the story. Yet despite Sykes antics, Delia continues with her labor. This shows that not only is Delia a diligent worker, but also an abused wife. References are also made to her getting beaten soon after their wedding. Now the reader can see that Delia, for the most part, has had a life to be pitied.

The tone evolves a little as Delia goes to collect and deliver laundry. A sympathetic...
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