Sweat Questions and Answers
by Zora Neale Hurston

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Explain how Hurston uses the snake both literally and symbolically in the story, "Sweat."  

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Literally, the snake is wielded as a weapon by Sykes. He brings the snake into the house in order to motivate a change in Delia's behavior. The snake is also a means of ensuring that Sykes can come and go as he pleases. Essentially, the snake draws attention away from Sykes's philandering activities and his plans to kick Delia out of her own home.

As a symbol, the snake represents the poisonous divide between Delia and Sykes. Because of Sykes's adultery, the marriage becomes irretrievably broken. In some cultures, the snake is associated with the male phallus. So, it can be argued that the snake in Hurston's story represents the toxic masculinity of Sykes, which is reflected in adulterous liaisons.

The snake is also a symbol of vengeance. The text reveals that Delia never makes a concerted effort to help Sykes (after he is bitten by the snake). She stays away until she is sure that the poison has had its effect on Sykes. By the time she approaches the house, Delia knows that her husband...

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