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

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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 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.