Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
The story covers several weeks in the lives of Delia Jones and her husband, Sykes, from a Sunday evening to a Monday morning, with a brief flashback to the course of their relationship during fifteen years of marriage. The action begins at a crucial moment that is to lead to Sykes’s death and Delia’s liberation. For the first time, Delia stands up to Sykes’s abuse. She has just returned from church and has begun her week’s work as a laundry woman for white people, sorting out the clothes that she collected the day before. Sykes, who has spent the day with his mistress, Bertha, lays a bullwhip across her shoulders to frighten her. She is deathly afraid of snakes. He also kicks her clothes around, grinding dirt into them, and complains not only about her working for white people but also about her hypocrisy, for she goes to church and receives the Sacrament but still works on Sunday. This irreligious, adulterous man, making such accusations and physically and psychologically abusing her, suddenly causes her to alter the relationship: She drops the meek posture of the subservient wife, takes up a heavy frying pan as a weapon, and threatens Sykes with retaliation. She declares herself willing to defend not only her person but also the house that she has paid for with “sweat” for the past fifteen years. She refuses to let him drive her out to make room for his new woman.
The following Saturday, Delia takes the laundered clothes to town. During this...
(The entire section is 619 words.)
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Set in a small all-black Florida town near Orlando, ‘‘Sweat’’ opens with Delia Jones soaking some clothes on a Sunday night. She is wondering where her husband has gone with her horse and buckboard (a simple carriage), when suddenly a bullwhip drops over her shoulder and terrifies her. Her husband, Sykes, then bursts out laughing at this joke he has played, since he is well aware of Delia’s fear of snakes, and proceeds to taunt her and kick around the clothes she had put into piles.
Delia tries to ignore him, but Sykes continues to threaten her, saying that she should not be working on Sunday. Although Delia goes to church each week, she cannot manage to deliver clean clothes in time to the white people she works for if, as is considered correct practice, she does no work on Sunday. And so, in contrast to her usual meekness, Delia shouts that she will not lose the house she has worked so hard for and threatens Sykes with a frying pan. Sykes is too surprised to beat her, so he just says he hates skinny women and goes to his portly mistress for the night. Remembering all of the times Sykes wasted her money, slept with other women, and beat her, and realizing that the only thing left to care about is her ‘‘lovely’’ home, Delia goes to sleep. When Sykes finally comes home and kicks her feet out of the way, she resolves to remain indifferent to him.
The next very hot Saturday, Delia passes Joe Clarke’s store on her way to...
(The entire section is 751 words.)