In 1926, a group of writers from the younger generation of the ‘‘New Negro’’ movement in New York City, including Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, decided to organize the quarterly magazine Fire!! Frustrated by the responsibilities thrust on them by Alain Locke and other leaders of the Harlem Renaissance, these writers wanted to express their own ideas without the artistic constraints of a political agenda. And, although they only managed to publish one issue because of a host of complications, the magazine left behind one of the most lasting legacies of the radical younger generation of black writers, still considered Hurston’s best fiction of the period: a short story titled ‘‘Sweat.’’
Now available in the complete collection of Hurston’s stories published by HarperCollins (1995), ‘‘Sweat’’ focuses on the turning point in the life of Delia Jones, a washerwoman from Hurston’s hometown of Eatonville, Florida. Beginning with an outburst against her abusive husband and finishing with her involvement in his death, the story follows Delia through a transformation, an upheaval of values that Hurston is interested in setting in the context of the Harlem Renaissance in New York City. The author makes use of biblical allusion and African American folk culture to attack issues of gender and oppression that were taboo topics at the time and continue to have a wide significance today.