Discuss Hurston's use of social realism in "Sweat."

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Zora Neale Hurston sets her story in a poor African American Southern community, probably modeled on Eatonville, Florida, where she grew up. She paints a vivid portrait of the hard work through which people struggle in vain to lift themselves out of poverty. The story focuses on one black woman, Delia, and her husband, Sykes. Her situation is made miserable by verbal, emotional, and physical abuse that he inflicts on his wife, and his efforts to bring his mistress into their home—a house that his wife owns. Hurston contrasts the sweat that Delia expends, earning enough to pay for her own house by doing laundry for white people.

American realism, which dates to the 19th century, is concerned with presenting a full range of social groups and focuses on the complications of their difficulties. It is often associated with reformist works such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin or cautionary tales of social climbing such as The Rise of Silas Lapham or The House of Mirth.

The U.S. variant is located within the larger global currents of social realism that gained currency from the turn of the 20th century. The focus shifted to urban, industrial settings, such as in Maggie, but the Great Depression helped broaden the scope once more to include the rural poor.

While Hurston’s story is squarely within the realist camp, she also employs elements of Christian allegory, especially the serpent. In this mixture her work resembles that of other, contemporary American realists, such as John Steinbeck’s East of Eden.

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Zora Neale Hurston's story "Sweat" is centered on the life and tribulations of Delia, an African American woman living in the South. Delia is married to an abusive man, Sykes. Although there are references to African American Southern folklore—which Hurston studied during her anthropological fieldwork in Barnard College—in the story, "Sweat" also features social realism.

The most prominent realist element is the plight of African American women in the impoverished Deep South, as well as the physical and emotional abuse women—regardless of color—face in a machismo culture.

The story highlights the effects of alcoholism on the American household and social fabric, the dynamics of abusive relationships and how they can last for many years, the failure of a marriage, and infidelity.

The literary style of "Sweat" is similar to the genre of magic realism in South American literature. For instance, the poetic justice of Sykes getting killed by the snake he released in Delia's house shows an element of suspended belief. However, this is contrasted or balanced with the realistic depiction of domestic abuse.

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