Delia’s has a fear of snakes and Sykes intends to get her to move out of the house using this phobia. If she does not move, Sykes will use the snake to get rid of her. This is the premise at the center of the story “Sweat” by Zora Neale Hurston.
Could Delia have saved Sykes from the snake? Should she have tried?
Delia as a Christian thinks about getting a doctor. She realizes that the nearest doctor is in Orlando which is too far away to help Sykes. Emotionally, Delia feels pity for the man who intended to kill her in the same way that he is dying.
"A surge of pity too strong to support bore her away from that eye that must, could not, fail to see the tubs....[s]he could scarcely reach the Chinaberry tree, where she waited in the growing heart while inside she knew the cold river was creeping up and up to extinguish that eye which must know by now that she knew..."
There was really nothing that she could do to save him. Do not forget that Delia was deeply afraid of snakes. Do not forget that Sykes placed the snake in the basket of clothes hoping that Delia would be bitten.
If Delia had warned Sykes, who knows what he would have done. He had been drinking. Possibly, he would have tried to put her back in the house with the snake. Delia might have been bitten herself if she had opened the door and gone in to help Sykes.
What happens when Sykes comes back to the house?
Since Delia does not succumb to her phobia of snakes and remains in the house, Sykes has to take his plan to get rid of his wife to the next level. He places the snake in a clothing basket that he knows Delia will work with when she returns from church. Luckily, Delia notices the snake before it has the chance to bite her.
Delia runs out of the house and climbs up in the barn hay.
“Well, Ah done de bes’ Ah could. If things ain’t right, Gawd knows tain’t mah fault.”
Eventually, Sykes returns home thinking that Delia is probably dead from the snake bites. He tears up the snake cage trying to hide the evidence that he brought the snake home. Hesitating before he goes into the house, Sykes slowly moves inside the house and closes the door.
Delia watches and listens waiting to see what happens. Inside the house, Sykes finds the snake coiled and ready to strike. He jumps toward the bed but is bitten many times. When he pulls down the window shade, he sees Delia outside and screams for her. One of his eyes is not swollen shut; Delia knows that he sees, and she cannot and does not try to save him.