In Zora Neale Hurston's "Sweat," what do we learn about Delia's ability to strategically forget and remember the past?

We learn that Delia can strategically forget or remember certain aspects of the past, and this ability allows her to foster the "bloody rage" that compels her to let Sykes die. In the end, even when she feels some sympathy for him, she forces herself outside, leaving him to perish in the figurative "cold river [that] was creeping up and up to extinguish that eye which must know by now that she knew."

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

After Delia finds the rattlesnake in her bedroom, she escapes the house and runs to the barn. She is so scared of the snake that she does not even feel safe on the ground, and so she climbs up into the hayloft. After a while spent thinking, she says, "Well, Ah done de bes' Ah could. If things aint right, Gawd knows taint mah fault." At this point, she seems to have made a decision, and the peacefulness it affords her allows her to fall asleep.

Delia seems to have been able to forget about the snake for a while, focusing only on her memories of everything she has done to try to work things out with Sykes and how abusive he has been to her. These memories, in the morning, allow her to feel calm—she "descended [from the hayloft] without fear now"—and to sit by while Sykes goes about his business inside the house, unaware that the rattlesnake is on the loose. "She mused" at the sound of the snake's rattle, even playfully referring to the snake as "Dat ol' scratch," a popular nickname for the devil.

When she feels a "surge of pity" for Sykes, after he's been bitten, she leaves the house and runs out into the yard, apparently preventing herself from remembering anything good about Sykes or their relationship. Having remembered all the bad things about him the night before allowed her to treat him coldly, as he treated her; she had felt a "bloody rage" then, and she shuts down her sympathy now so that she can let him die.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team