What is the rising action of the short story "Sweat" by Zora Neale Hurston?

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Delia and Sykes Jones, a poor black sharecropper couple living in the south, are married for 15 years. Delia has toiled all those years washing clothes to feed herself and her husband, while he has spent his days drinking and running around with another woman. Delia is tired of this life and wants out. She finds a way out on the day when she discovers that her husband Sykes has placed a rattlesnake in her laundry basket. Rather than being terrified, as she would have been earlier in their relationship, now she feels only pity for what this creature must be going through if it is being used as a pawn to terrorize her.

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As in most stories the rising action of "Sweat" comprises the largest part of the story.

In the rising action of a story, the problem/conflict(s) is/are introduced with the series of events that lead to the climax. After the main characters of Delia and Sykes Jones are...

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introduced to the reader, the events that raise the action to the climax of the conflicts between Delia and her husband are as follows:

--As Delia sorts the laundry that she washes for white folks, 

Just then something long, round, limp and black fell upon her shoulders and slithered to the floor beside her....

She is terrified as she believes a snake has landed on her; however it is her husband's whip, instead. (This incident foreshadows another action of Sykes.) He enters, laughing at her. Delia scolds him for his cruel joke because he knows her fear of snakes, but Sykes reprimands her for washing the clothes. 

"Ah done tole you time and again to keep them white folks' clothes outa dis house."

Sykes walks through the laundry, kicking some it. He does this with the intention of irritating her.

--Delia and Sykes argue. She informs him that her taking in laundry has been the only thing that keeps them fed. 

"Looka heah, Sykes, you done gone too fur. Ah been married to you fur fifteen years, and Ah been takin' in washin' for fifteen years. Sweat, sweat, sweat! Work and sweat, cry and sweat, pray and sweat!"

--Delia grabs the iron skillet and poses to fight; Sykes is surprised at her unusual aggressive stance. He does not hit her as he usually does.

--Further, Delia complains of her husband's running around on her and his disgraceful behavior. She informs him that he has not paid for anything and she is staying on their place until she is "toted out foot foremost" (dead).

--Somewhat awed by Delia's bravery, Sykes leaves and does not return until late in the night. As she lies in bed alone, Delia ponders her sad state, recalling that all Sykes has brought to their marriage is carnal desire. But, she reasons,

Sometime or ruther, Sykes, like everybody else, is gointer reap his sowing." After that she was able to build a spiritual earthworks against her husband. His shells could no longer reach her. Amen. She went to sleep.

--Late in the night, Sykes returns and kicks her over to the edge of the bed. She moves with "a triumphant indifference."

--In town, some of the men sit around gossiping. They see Delia delivering the laundry as she rides past with her pony pulling a rusty buckboard. The discussion turns to Delia and her worthless husband and his ugly girlfriend.

He allus wuz uh ovahbearin' niggah, but since dat white 'oman from up north done teached 'im how to run a automobile, he done got too biggety to live--an' we oughter kill 'im," Old Man Anderson advised.

--Then, one day Delia comes home to find Sykes there, waiting for her. As she tries to enter the house, he kicks a box toward her. It contains a rattlesnake. Because Delia is terrified of snakes, she nearly faints, and begs him to take it away, but he refuses.

--The snake is quiet for some time because it has been digesting the frogs that Sykes has fed it. But, one day Delia sees his fangs around the wire meshes over the box.

She stood for a long time in the doorway in a red fury that grew bloodier for every second that she regarded the creature that was her torment.

--That evening she begs Sykes to take the snake away; however, he refuses. Delia gets up from the table and tells her husband fearlessly that she hates him.

...Sykes departed from the house, threatening her, but made not the slightest move to carry out any of them.

--When she returns home from church at night, Delia knows immediately that Sykes has had his woman in her house. Tired, she decides to sit on the bed and rest as she works on the laundry.

At this point the climax begins as Delia lifts the lid of the laundry basket and discovers the snake inside. She runs outside and hides in the hay loft where her suffering soon ends after Sykes returns.

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What is the climax of "Sweat" by Zora Neale Hurston?

Zora Neale Hurston, an African-American writer during the Harlem Renaissance, wrote about  an all-black town of Eatonville, Florida.  Hurston was able to attend Columbia University in New York City in the 1920s which was quite unusual for a black woman during this period.

The story “Sweat” is  a classic example of regionalism literature.  She wanted the reader to be able to hear the conversations by her characters just as they would have spoken them to each other.  The dialectal writing makes for a challenge but is well worth the experience.

This story uses a third person narrator, with Delia Jones as the focus of the story. The protagonist Delia triumphs not only as a black woman but as a representative for all women who are abused but face up to their abuser.

Delia has been married to the villainous Sykes Jones for fifteen years.  She has been the breadwinner the entire time. Her job entails washing clothes for the white people in the nearby town.  It is a hard job, but it has paid the bills, bought the house, and provided money for Sykes to waste.  Since the beginning of their marriage, Sykes has beaten Delia. He has antagonized her, demeaned her and harassed her. 

Sykes wants to get rid of Delia.  He has a girlfriend that he wants to move into Delia’s house.  Delia is not going to budge.  Knowing her greatest fear, Sykes begins to work on Delia’s nerves.  He slips a bullwhip around her neck while she works.  It feels and looks like a black snake... Delia is furious. 

After the whip incident, Sykes shows up at the house with a box telling Delia that he has bought her a gift. She looks in the box, and there is a huge rattlesnake.  Delia tells him to get it out of the house. Sykes tells her that he is going to keep it for a pet.  Two or three days later, the snake begins to be restless in its caged box.  She warns Sykes that by the end of the week after church, the snake needs to be gone. 

When she returns, Delia does not hear anything:

Whut’s de mattah, ol’ Satan, you aint’ up yo’racket? She addressed the snake’s box.  Complete silence.  She went on into the house with a new hope in its birth struggles.  Perhaps her threat to go to the white folks had frightened Sykes! 

Beginning her Sunday night work, Delia goes into the laundry baskets to sort the clothes.  She takes the lid off one of the baskets, and there is the snake. It has obviously been placed there by Sykes hoping that Delia would be bitten when she began the laundry. 

Grabbing a lamp, she runs out into the darkness of the front yard. 

The story’s climax

The climax takes place when Sykes gets his comeuppance.

Later in the night, Sykes returns to the house. He peeps in windows and listens for sounds; then he destroys the wire box to cover up his crime. Thinking that the snake may have done its job, Sykes enters the house.  Delia can hear Sykes inside the house.  She hears the rattling of the snake.  Outside Delia hears a cry that might have been made by a wild animal.  There was a great commotion inside the house and more animalistic cries 

She could hear Sykes calling her name.  Delia waited for the sun to come up.  Looking in the door, she sees Sykes. He is on his hands and knees.  His neck is horribly swollen, and his eyes are completely swollen shut.  He called to her, but she went and stood by the chinaberry tree.  There was nothing that she could (or would) do.   

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