What has Delia and Sykes' marriage been like in "Sweat"? What are the sources of discontent that make them so angry at each other?

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scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Their marriage has been acrimonious.  As Delia and Sykes argue once again near the story's beginning, Delia thinks,

"Two months after the wedding, he had given her the first brutal beating. She had the memory of his numerous trips to Orlando with all of his wages when he returned to her penniless, even before the first year had passed. . . . Two late now to hope for love, even if it were not Bertha it would be someone else. . . Too late for everything except her little home."

Hurston makes it clear that from the beginning, Delia's hope for a fairy tale life ended with Sykes' abuse, philandering, and spending.  She has resented him for years, but he continues his actions because he knows that she will take it.  When she finally stands up to him, he is incredulous.

The sources of conflict in their marriage are Sykes' careless attitude toward his wife, his cheating, his humiliating her, and his disdain for her work. Sykes runs around town with other women and parades them in front of Delia and everybody else, all while knowing that it humiliates her. The only positive element in Delia's life is her pride in her home.  She works tirelessly to provide for herself by laundering others' clothes, and Sykes makes her work harder and mocks her for what she does.  Delia, instead of dealing with this earlier, builds up resentment toward Sykes, and it eventually reveals itself in external conflict at the story's end.