In "Sweat" by Zora Neale Hurston, how accurate are the depictions in the story to the context and what is author's underlying attempt through the story? I'm guessing breaking stereotypes...? Same...

In "Sweat" by Zora Neale Hurston, how accurate are the depictions in the story to the context and what is author's underlying attempt through the story? I'm guessing breaking stereotypes...?

Same two questions for "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner, but I don't even have a guess of the underlying meaning.

Thank you!

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Since Zora Neale Hurston grew up in Eatonville, Florida, and studied as an anthropologist, she was quite familiar with the local color and the people of the region. Hurston the anthropologist is a student of the people and an observer; therefore, she reserves judgment. As a result, her depictions are truly realistic: the inner strength of Delia and her deep religious faith help her to bear the transgressions of her husband, transgressions that the porch crowd know well and discuss. 

There is a spiritual, "I Don't Feel No Ways Tired" which is about the inner strength of slaves-

I don't believe (I don't believe)
that God would bring me (would bring me this far just to leave me)-

-this song depicts the endurance in Delia. Early in the narrative she tells her husband that he has contributed very little to the house, as she is aware that he runs with other women and wastes his money. But with Sykes she is quiet and displays a triumphant indifference to all that he was or did. Still, after her husband flaunts his woman in their own town, it is more than Delia can bear because she is aware that the townspeople are talking. So, she tells her husband that she hates him. After this, her sufferings are like those of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane: 

Delia on work-worn knees crawled over the earth in Gethsemane and up the rocks of Calvary many, many times during these months. She avoided the villagers and meeting places in her efforts to be blind and deaf. But Bertha nullified this to a degree, by coming to Delia's house to call Sykes out to her at the gate.

It is at this point that Delia can no longer bear Sykes's humiliation and torment. He, too, has reached a turning point, as always happens, and a crisis of faith is reached. as the devil in the form of the snake enters her home; for, Sykes knows how deathly afraid of these reptiles Delia is. When she discovers the snake on the laundry baskets, the terrified Delia rushes out to the barn. Here she begins to break the stereotype of the passive, long-suffering wife. 

After Sykes, who has been gone with Bertha all night comes home to check on Delia's condition, ironically, it is he who stumbles upon the rattlesnake and is struck repeatedly. Hearing him inside the house Delia runs and hides under the window. Sykes hears her outside and calls to her, but she does not respond. Now, it is he who sweats with fear for his life, "his horribly swollen neck and his one open eye shining with hope" as he looks at Delia. But, with a will, she waits for fate to "extinguish that eye which must know by now that she knew." For, after Bertha comes to town and Delia is so humiliated, she retaliates against him and lets fate take its course, displaying an inner strength that certainly breaks the stereotype of the abused wife.


A lifelong resident of Oxford, Mississippi, William Faulkner, author of "A Rose for Emily," has created a world around him with his fiction set in a similar location with its ghosts and old customs. In his short story, "A Rose for Emily," Miss Emily Grierson is repressed in the old aristocratic and patriarchal society that governs with whom she may dance, and with whom she may date, and where she may go. To her father, "None of the young men were quite good enough to Miss Emily and such." And, so, the townspeople think of Emily and her father as a

...tableau, Miss Emily a slender figure in white in the background, her father spraddled silhouette in the background.

She is one who must heed noblesse oblige and behave according to her lineage. But, after her father dies, Miss Emily's world begins to decay. In fact, when the townspeople begin to think that the Griersons "held themselves a little too high for what they really were," Miss Emily seems to become "humanized" after her father dies. Strangely, she has met people at the door, telling them that "her father was not dead," and breaking down when he is removed. Nevertheless, for a time Miss Emily carries on in the manner to which she has been accustomed.

But, after a time, Miss Emily does break the social code and is seen riding on a Sunday with a common worker and a Northerner. Some of the town gossips say that "even grief could not cause a real lady to forget noblesse oblige." Then, some begin to believe that "she was fallen" and start to call her "Poor Emily." While Miss Emily has broken the stereotype, some of the townspeople do not forgive her for this social breach, while others feel pity for her as she yet assumes she is still aristocratic. In short, Emily cannot accept the present and "clings to what has robbed her." In a bizarre twist, Emily does not permit Homer Barron to flee because she has lost so many before. And, so, after she dies, the townspeople make a bizarre discovery: Emily has poisoned a man to keep him.

Emily's story is a tragic one. Like the Old South, Emily has become an anachronism and has no place in the new society (breaking the stereotype). She tries to cling to the past and hold onto the present, but fails at both, never having had much of life. And so, she holds on to that which cannot resist, a cadaver.