What is the writer’s goal in "Sweat"? 

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The central goal of Hurston is to empower and challenge her readers about the violence that exists within the black community. Through her evocation of Delia, a hardworking washerwoman who experiences domestic abuse thanks to her husband, she seeks to challenge the domestic violence that occurs within so many homes and to empower women to be able to stand up to their oppressors. Note the way that the first sight we have of Delia's husband is when he is standing behind her holding a bullwhip. This of course is a striking image and clearly indicates the kind of abuse that she is subject to.

However, what perhaps is not expected is the way that she suddenly flares up at him, shouting at him and threatening him with a skillet. Note how Hurston describes his response:

It cowed him and he did not strike her as he usually did.

The reference to his "usual" activity in striking Delia clearly reveals the kind of oppression that Delia faces, and which she stands up to in the rest of the story, striving for her own sense of self and independence. The story therefore could be said to represent a massive challenge for black Americans in an era where the husband was still considered to have massive patriarchal authority. The fate of Delia comes to symbolise the fate of many black American women who live with such domestic abuse on a day-by-day basis. The story of Delia, however, shows such women that they do not need to put up with it.  


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