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

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rdb919 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Hurston's story, "Sweat," Delia is a hardworking woman who is constantly tormented by her husband, Sykes. One of the ways he torments her is by taking advantage of her fear of snakes. He does this in the literal sense when, at the start of the story, he pretends his whip is a snake and scares her with it. Later, he brings home a real snake and keeps it in the house, enjoying her fear of it being there. In the end, the snake, ironically, kills Sykes; therefore, it worked against him. Delia hears his cries for help after the snake bites him but refuses to save him.

Symbolically, the snake represents evil. Because Sykes is the one bringing snakes into the house with the intent to upset his wife, the reader must associate evil with him. He wants to get rid of Delia so he can be with his girlfriend, and he goes about this in malicious ways; like the snake, his actions are sneaky and poisonous. In having Sykes killed by the snake, Hurston is showing that evil ways will not be rewarded. By the end of the story, Delia is freed from her husband and the evil that the snake represents.