Sister T. Willburn
7 June 2013
Realism in Zora Neale Hurston’s “Sweat”
In Zora Neale Hurston’s short story “Sweat” the author uses rhythm and repetition to shape her theme of survival and empowerment by simulating labored and conscious footsteps, rhythmic pounding of sledge hammers along a chain gang, and the loud beats of an anxious and overworked heart. This rhythm and repetition builds tension as Delia, the protagonist, finds within herself the strength necessary to survive and overcome the abuse with which she lives, and eventually conquering her abusive husband, Sykes, by allowing a snake’s venom to take over his blood stream, killing him. The rhythm and repetition found in the short story “Sweat” simulate the echoes of someone repeating to herself the motivational words necessary to her survival. It is the author’s use of rhythm and repetition that create detailed characters, plausible events, and the comprehensive and complex detail of banal activities of everyday life representative of realism in literature. In “Sweat,” Hurston tells the story of Delia, a middle-aged, black woman who works very hard washing clothes for white people to support her cheating, unemployed husband, Sykes, who continually berates her during bouts of physical abuse. Hurston uses accents in her rhythm to accurately and realistically simulate the sounds and actions of a washer woman bringing to life the torturous and necessary day to day activities of Delia. According to Kennedy, readers “favor a stressed syllable with a little more breath and emphasis” (429), and the author uses this technique to simulate in detail Delia’s mind and heart. True to the realism movement, Delia describes her life as, “Work and sweat, cry and sweat, pray and sweat” (233), as she works to grow beyond the poverty of her past. In reading this, one can hear Delia’s feet drag and pound, drag and pound, drag and pound. The author’s attention to detail allows the reader to hear...
Cited: Hurston, Zora Neale. “Sweat.” Backpack Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. 2nd ed. Ed. Kennedy, X. J., and Dana Gioia. New York: Pearson, 2008. 231-241. Print.
Kennedy, X. J., and Dana Gioia, eds. Backpack Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. 2nd ed. New York: Pearson, 2008. Print.
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