What is the symbolism in Hurston's "Sweat"?

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In "Sweat," the piles of laundry serve as a symbol. In the beginning of the story, Delia separates the loads of laundry into piles. This work of separating symbolizes Delia's efforts to provide order and structure in her life. With an abusive and unfaithful husband, Delia must work to find order and stability. As Delia steps away from her sorted piles to retrieve her washtub, her husband, Sykes, kicks the piles of clothes. His act serves to show his disregard for Delia's efforts and represents the chaos that he brings to her world. In the story, he "stepped roughly upon the whitest pile of things." White is a symbol of purity, and his act of stepping on the white clothing symbolizes the sin and unfaithfulness that he brings into the marriage.

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The chinaberry tree is another important symbol in the book. It represents the sense of tranquility that Delia finally achieves at the end of the story and which has eluded her right throughout her abusive marriage to Sykes. As Sykes lays dying of a snakebite nearby, Delia retreats to the cool, revitalizing shade of the tree, which symbolizes the beginning of a new life for her now that her abusive husband is out of the way.

That this takes place in the morning adds further symbolic weight to the moment. A new day has truly dawned in Delia's life, and she's begun the next chapter as she intends to go on: in her own way, on her own terms, and in an atmosphere of peace and repose.

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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.

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One theme is that of sweat. Sweat is symbolic of fear, anger, and labor. Her sweat and blood are used to wash and care for the white people's clothes. She spends long hours toiling in the sun. Her labor keeps her  house which brings her a lot of joy, arguably the only joy in her life.

The heat of the summer can be compared to the simmering of her temperament when her husband taunts her. She has long suffered from his abuse and treachery, and as the summer continues, her anger simmers below the surface.Her fear of snakes causes her to sweat, as well. She is forced to reside in the house with it, and it is a source of constant upset for her.

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