Delia is a woman who must deal with oppression on two fronts. The outside world, the white community, work her so relentlessly that she must work on Sunday just to keep up with the demands.
Delia's husband keeps her cowed in her home. He has spent their marriage beating her, cheating on her, and taking her money to pamper other women. She works so hard to keep her "lovely" house, and yet, it is ironic that she loves the place where she cannot get any piece.
Her husband's favorite past-time is to torture her with snakes, which Delia is terrified of. He brings a rattlesnake in the house just to make her panic, and insists on keeping it in a box to live.
As time goes on, and the heat rises, Delia feels that something must be done. But her choices are limited by both her gender and race. Ironically, her freedom comes courtesy of the rattlesnake, who has gotten out and attacks her husband as Delia hides and watches.
The protagonist, Delia, is a hard working and proud woman married to an abusive, cheating husband. She has worked hard to raise money for a home, and much of the money she has saved is spent by her husband on his booze and mistresses. The two fight during the story, with Sykes trying to scare her with thoughts of snakes, and Delia trying hard to ignore him. He even goes so far as to show off his mistress in front of her. She continues to ignore, and he brings home a rattlesnake to try and scare her. He wants to have power over her again. In the end, the snake is loss and he is attacked by it. Delia is there the whole time, but does nothing to warn and help him, allowing him to be killed by his own idea of a sick joke.