Adultery is a significant factor in two of Zora Neale Hurston’s most important stories: “Sweat” and “The Gilded Six-Bits.” However, significant differences exist between the roles played by adultery in the two tales. Among those differences are the following:
- The act of adultery committed in “The Gilded Six-Bits” is apparently a one-time occurrence. In contrast, the adultery committed by Joe Sykes in “Sweat” consists of an extended relationship.
- Joe, in “The Gilded Six-Bits,” is unaware of his wife’s adultery until he discovers her in the act. In contrast, Delia, in “Sweat,” is fully aware of her husband’s adulterous relationship.
- Joe is shocked by Missy May’s adultery; Delia is resigned to her husband’s adultery.
- Missy May seems genuinely sorry for the adultery she commits; Sykes feels no guilt at all.
- Missy May regrets the pain her adultery causes her husband; Sykes has no concern about Delia’s feelings.
- Sykes blatantly seeks out opportunities to commit adultery; ironically, it was Joe who helped make Missy May’s adultery possible by praising the wealth of Otis Slemmons.
- Missy May’s adultery seems an aberration; Sykes’ adultery seems typical of him.
- Missy May’s adultery is something known only to her, Joe, and Slemmons. Sykes’ adultery is a subject of extensive conversation within the local community. Sykes, in fact, doesn’t care who sees his public involvement with Delia; he doesn’t even care if Delia herself happens to see it. In fact, he enjoys it when Delia sees him with Bertha (an attitude that is exactly the opposite of Missy May’s feelings about being seen by Joe with Slemmons):
Just then Delia drove past on her way home, as Sykes was ordering magnificently [at a store] for Bertha. It pleased him for Delia to see.
In several ways, the cases of adultery depicted in the two stories seem similar. These resemblances include the following:
- Neither Slemmons nor Bertha, apparently, is especially attractive.
- Both Slemmons and Bertha seem to be relative newcomers to the towns in which the adulteries occur.