In Zora Neale Hurston's story "Sweat," the snake—both real and fake—is a prominent element in the plot. When Delia's husband, Sykes, comes home one day, he pretends his whip is a snake to scare her because he knows she's deathly afraid of snakes. Later, to torment her even more, he brings home a snake in a soap box. She screams when she sees it and doesn't understand how her husband can be so mean. When the snake winds up biting Sykes, he dies while Delia waits outside.
In this story, the snake symbolizes evil and treachery. Hurston uses this symbol to represent Sykes's evil ways. A snake is generally a symbol of evil, from as far back as the Bible, where the snake enters the Garden of Eden and tempts Eve to try the forbidden fruit. However, by trying to harm and upset Delia with his malice, Sykes suffers at his own hand. Hurston employs irony as she incorporates the symbol of the evil snake in this story.