Comment on the following statement concerning the story "Sweat" by Zora Neale Hurston: The use of dialect in "Sweat" is distracting and undermines the author's attempt to authentically portray...

Comment on the following statement concerning the story "Sweat" by Zora Neale Hurston: The use of dialect in "Sweat" is distracting and undermines the author's attempt to authentically portray real African Americans?

Expert Answers
carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is imperative that the white readers of  “Sweat” understand that Zola Neale Hurston did not write the story for them. When Hurston wrote her story in 1926, her readers were the black people reading black southern dialect to add to the flavor of the story. It was the Harlem Renaissance, and these great black writers were establishing themselves as part of the American culture.

The black dialect of the story “Sweat” promotes the authenticity of the characters and events in the story.  Reading the story using the southern black dialect which Hurston learned as a child in Eatonville, Florida, does make the story unusual but adds to the reality of the story which every writer desires. 

Zora Neale Hurston was educated receiving her degree from Columbia in anthropology. Hurston grew up in Eatonville, Florida, which was an all black town in central Florida. Hurston began her writing during the Harlem Renaissance.

This information is important to understand. This is a writer who knew exactly what she was doing when she used the  black dialect.  She was striving to retain the language of  the people that she knew  and grew up listening to as a child.  This was the purpose of the story “Sweat.”

Hurston’s  hometown, Eatonville, was the ideal place for a young black girl in the early twentieth century.  Since the town’s population was all black, the author grew up listening to this dialect.  Her point of view concerning race developed in this environment, and her knowledge of black dialect was first hand.

In her story “Sweat,” Hurston’s story takes place in Eatonville.  The main character is a black woman who works in the white world but lives in the black world.  The way that Delia speaks is authentic.  In the 1920s, Delia represents a different type of woman from the eastern United States.  This black woman who worked hard, who was abused, and who stood up for herself replicated a real person in the southern part of the country.   How could the story have been written any other way then to have Delia speak as she spoke in real life?

Naw you won't," she panted, "that ole snaggle-toothed black woman you runnin' with aint comin' heah to pile up on mah sweat and blood. You aint paid for nothin' on this place, and Ah'm gointer stay right heah till Ah'm toted out foot foremost.

Hurston wanted the reader to listen to the dialogue just as if he was actually in the room hearing Delia tell Sykes that he was not bringing his girlfried to her house.  This is authenticity for which the author wanted.

Part of the fun of reading this story is figuring out exactly what is said in the black dialect. It is not distracting because it is part of the essence of the story.  It is Delia’s story. Let her speak her language. 

nmassimo | Student

I don't think the dialect in "Sweat" takes away from the story rather than adding authenticity and bringing it to life. The dialect helps reveal the true nature of the characters and helps readers connect with them. It wouldn't make sense for them to speak proper English during that time period because of their background and who they are as individuals.