What is the tone of the story "Sweat'' by Zora Neale Hurston?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Tone refers to the way the author feels about his or her subject. Hurston seems quite sympathetic to Delia Jones, a hardworking woman who has the misfortune to be married to a despicable man called Sykes.

In the first interaction we see between these married people, Sykes purposely tries to...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Tone refers to the way the author feels about his or her subject. Hurston seems quite sympathetic to Delia Jones, a hardworking woman who has the misfortune to be married to a despicable man called Sykes.

In the first interaction we see between these married people, Sykes purposely tries to scare Delia by making her think that a snake has dropped onto her shoulder, and then he "almost rolled on the ground in his mirth" at her terror. He calls her a "big fool" and says that he doesn't care how badly he frightens her. Although Delia works so hard and puts food on their table, Sykes berates her, tortures her, and even cheats on her openly and publicly with another woman. The narrator describes him as behaving "truculently," and he seems to be hoping for "an argument" like a petulant child.

Delia, meanwhile, remains "calm" and simply redoes the work that he undoes with his malice. Thus, Hurston's tone toward Sykes is judgmental, disapproving, even condemning. Hurston continues to show her sympathy for Delia by inspiring ours: when Sykes steps on the white clothes that she's been working to clean, she "gave a little scream of dismay," and Sykes threatens to physically abuse Delia. Hurston seems very much to approve of Delia, especially when the speaker says that

Delia's habitual meekness seemed to slip from her shoulders like a blown scarf. She was on her feet; her poor little body, her bare knuckly hands bravely defying the strapping hulk before her.

When Delia grabs her iron skillet to defend herself, it feels very much like a win for her. Readers likely cheer her on because we can see how awful her husband is.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team