Another potent symbol in Hurston's short story "Sweat" is the snake. At the beginning of the tale, Sykes, the violent husband, cracks a whip at his long-suffering wife, Delia. She recoils in fear, as she thinks it's a snake and is violently afraid of snakes. Her husband later brings a rattlesnake into their house in an attempt to frighten Delia into leaving their house—the house that she has paid for by doing endless loads of white people's laundry. In the end, however, the snake, freed from its basket, bites Sykes and kills him.
The snake symbolizes the hatred and violence that Sykes has introduced to the house. He wants to inflict this hatred on his wife, but, in the end, it winds up killing him. The hate Sykes brings to his marriage causes his own undoing.