In "Sweat" by Zora Neale Hurston, what is Sykes’s objection to “white folks’ clothes” being in the house?

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liesljohnson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a good question! As you read through Zora Neale Hurston's short story "Sweat," you notice that Sykes gets angry at his wife Delia for having "white folks' clothes" in their home. (She makes her living by doing laundry for her white clients.) He tells her, in a frustrated manner, that he's reminded her before to not bring white people's clothes into their home. But Sykes doesn't say right away why he resents this. As readers, we wonder why Sykes cares whose clothes come into the house--after all, his wife's laundry work is supporting them, so shouldn't he be grateful or at least neutral toward his wife's customers and their belongings?

It's a few paragraphs later when Skyes finally reveals his problem with his wife bringing the white people's laundry home. First, he accuses her of being a religious hypocrite who works on the Sabbath day even after attending church services. But more to the point, he says that he's promised God (and some of his friends, too) that he'll never have white people's clothes in his home:

"Ah don't keer if you never git through. Anyhow, Ah done promised Gawd and a couple of other men, Ah aint gointer have it in mah house."

Sykes, a proud man who eschews the company of whites, means that Delia is annoying him, possibly degrading him and making him look foolish to his friends, by performing this lowly service (laundry) for white people. 

Of course, Sykes's objection to Delia's work reveals more about his character than hers: he paints himself as someone unreasonable, proud, and downright villainous. Keep in mind that he's openly cheating on Delia, and Delia is the one whose work supports Sykes, so why should he have any say whatsoever in how she does that work?

user1674963 | Student

What is Sykes’s objection to “white folks’ clothes” being in the house?