As Zora Neale Hurston’s story draws to a close, Delia Jones becomes a widow. Her husband, Sykes, dies from a snakebite. After 15 years of marriage to this abusive man, Delia had almost resigned herself to his emotional torment and physical beatings. The combination of Sykes’s flagrant affair with Bertha, whom he threatens to bring into Delia's home, and his tormenting her with a huge rattlesnake prove too much to bear. Along with her faith that Sykes would get what he deserved, Delia had resolved to change her situation. The snake did what she could not.
The story’s third-person narrator initially presents Delia as sad and fearful; they mention Delia’s mournful singing and her terror of snakes, which Sykes exploits. Delia is portrayed as having “thin, stooped shoulders” and being habitually meek. Despite having a “poor little body,” she proves capable of standing up to Sykes’s “strapping hulk.” The moment she seizes a heavy iron skillet is a turning point. The narrator indicates that Delia would defend herself from the blows he often inflicted on her. They have been married fifteen years, and he had first beaten her only two months into their marriage.
Delia is a religious woman, and she concludes that divine justice will solve her problems: “Sykes, like everybody else, is going to reap his sowing.” She develops a “triumphant indifference” to his emotional and physical abuse. Delia struggles to be indifferent, however, to the town gossip about Sykes’s mistress, Bertha.
Delia reaches another turning point when Sykes brings a rattlesnake to their home. His stated purpose was to terrify her, and he refuses her entreaties to remove it. With this action, he has killed her “insides:” her tolerance is exhausted.
After Delia tells him that he must leave the house, which she owns, she sees the snake has moved into the laundry basket. She remains passive, but relies on her faith to solve the problem, reasoning that she has done everything she could: “If things ain’t right, Gawd knows tain’t my fault.” Later that night, the snake bites Sykes. Although she feels sick about it, she makes no move to help him.
As the other educators have pointed out, Delia is no longer the cowering wife of previous years. As the story progresses, she becomes more vocal, defiant, and courageous. She also changes in other ways.
For example, she decides that she will no longer let Sykes' taunting, cruel words hurt her. Instead of taking to heart everything he says, she decides to adopt an attitude of indifference.
When Sykes threatens her, Delia ignores him. We see evidence of this change in Delia when Sykes gets into bed and kicks her. Despite his rude words, she refuses to engage him in a pointless argument. At this point, Delia sees little reason to respond to a man who will never love her.
Another change in Delia is physical in nature. The text tells us that Delia was once young and "soft." She had brought love to the union and trusted that Sykes did the same. However, Sykes' abusive behavior over a number of years has wreaked havoc on her happiness. Her once-girlish figure has been replaced with the taut, muscled limbs of a working woman. Additionally, her hands are no longer soft; instead, they are rough and show the effects of years of hard labor.
Since Sykes always spends his earnings on drink and other women, Delia must work to sustain the needs of the household. The text tells us that Delia has singularly provided for the household for fifteen years.
No one is more surprised than Sykes at the changes in Delia. He is shocked that Delia is planning on staying put in the house. For her part, Delia has no intentions of turning her home over to Sykes and his newest lover.
Sykes is also stunned at Delia's admission that she hates him with abiding intensity. At the story's end, Delia prevails, and it is indeed she who stays and Sykes who must leave (through death).
In the story, "Sweat," Delia Jones is forced to change through her circumstances or lose everything she has worked for as a "wash-woman." Delia has sweated to keep her house while her good-for-nothing husband has abused her. She is terrified of snakes, and Sykes, her husband, carries a bull whip that he uses to slither on the floor like a snake to scare her. If he is not beating her, he is carrying on with his mistress, shaming Delia.
The first time she tries to protect herself, she raises a skillet to him and that surprises Sykes. However, he then brings a rattlesnake home as a pet. She begs him to get rid of it; he refuses. It is not long after that that Delia finally has the nerve to tell Sykes how she feels: "Ah hates you tuh de same degree dat Ah useter love yuh." At this point, she has become independent from Sykes and realizes there is no fixing the miserable relationship. When he is bitten by the snake, she does not go to his aid. She is finally free of him.
In Zora Neale Hurston's story, "Sweat," Delia experiences a transformation from a scared, passive woman to a strong, defiant one. At the start of the story, she keeps her head down and works hard; she is terribly afraid when her husband, Sykes, drops his whip on her shoulder, pretending it is a snake. The first sign that Delia is changing is when she holds up an iron skillet as if she will strike her husband. She does this because he dirties the clothes she just cleaned. As the story progresses, Sykes becomes meaner and meaner, hurling insults at Delia and parading his mistress around town. When he finally brings home a live snake, this crosses the line for Delia. She realizes he will never change and when he is bitten by the snake, she becomes defiant and decides not to help him. In her newly-found strength, she fights back by allowing him to die. The reason she changes is in large part because of Sykes' increasing cruelty to her, and the continual threat of the thing she is most afraid of--snakes.