Zora Neale Hurston

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In "Sweat," could Delia say, like Hurston in "How It Feels to Be Colored Me," that she has no gender, or does the story suggest a different perspective on gender?

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Delia's experience of gender has some similarities with Hurston's discussion of race. Both women are objectified by racial and gender stereotypes, but both women share a sense of self worth that insulates them against prejudice and abuse.

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On the face of it, it would seem that Delia (from the story "Sweat") is very different from the Hurston that declares that "sometimes she has no race." Delia is not given to that sort of reflection. Unlike Hurston, Delia is not an intellectual. She is not given to appreciating jazz, and her contact with the white world is limited to washing their clothes (unlike Sykes, who demands that she stop bringing white people's clothes into the house, Delia sees it as a purely money-making proposition).

It is also true that her love of work is a way of insulating herself against her abusive husband and asserting her own agency. Sykes' disparaging remarks about her skinny figure (and how he loves fat women) are an attempt to objectify Delia, but these attempts fail. Like Hurston, the reality of Delia's life is beyond race or gender; her work (like Hurston's writing) frees her from stereotypes and prejudice. Her lack of sexual attractiveness for Sykes is actually a kind of release from a set of social expectations, as is his eventual (and ironic) death from the snake he brought to the house to try to scare Delia away. Like the race-less "cosmic Zora," who feels herself to be "a brown bag of miscellany," at the end of the story the "cosmic" Delia emerges, free to be herself.

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