How does Zora Neale Hurston represent Delia and Sykes in "Sweat's" first part?

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Hurston presents Delia and Sykes as having a dysfunctional relationship. Delia is shown as a hardworking washerwoman who has to put up with a bullying, sadistic husband in Sykes. However, as the story opens, she is beginning to change.

When Sykes comes in, he drapes his black whip limply over Delia's shoulders so she will think it is a snake and be frightened—and he thinks her fright is funny. When she says he knows she is scared of snakes, he responds:

“Course Ah knowed it! That’s how come Ah done it.” He slapped his leg with his hand and almost rolled on the ground in his mirth.

He then criticizes her for taking in white people's washing. He disorganizes her work, kicking her whites across the room. He is, the narrator tells us, praying for an argument. When he tells her he won't have her taking in laundry anymore, she loses her meekness and stands up to him, saying that her work feeds him:

Mah tub of suds is filled yo’ belly with vittles more times than yo’ hands is filled it.

She also picks up an iron frying pan to defend herself from him, something that surprises him.

In this opening scene, we see Delia at a point of transformation in which she is starting to stand up to her abusive husband after fifteen years.

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How does Zora Neale Hurston represent Delia and Sykes in the first part of "Sweat"?

Delia and Sykes are a married couple who have a very strained relationship. She is a hardworking person, but he is not. Although her earnings have paid for the house, he speaks of it as his, as though he has the right to give her orders. Delia has grown thin and tired over the course of their marriage and has finally become very frustrated at his behavior and lack of respect for her. She has even started going to a different church so that she will not have to worship alongside him on Sundays.

When the story begins, the couple has been married for fifteen years. Delia seems to be clinging to the last shreds of the love and other motivations she originally had for marrying Sykes. She is highly aware of the gossip that runs through the town, associating him with a mistress named Bertha. So long as Bertha keeps her distance, Delia is tolerant of her husband’s infidelity, but she realizes that he has brought this woman into their home.

Along with his sense of entitlement to order her around and be unfaithful, Sykes lavishly spends Delia’s earnings. He has been physically as well as verbally abusive. In the first part of the story, he exploits her fear of snakes to torment her by placing a snake on her neck. This incident marks a turning point in their relationships, as she in turn threatens him with a heavy frying pan. The reader can infer that the situation will only worsen.

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