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Study Questions for Zora Neale Hurston's "Sweat"

Vocabulary: allusion, christological figure, dialect, Harlem Renaissance, metaplasmus

Introduction: none

Lecture or Handouts: none

Identify the following characters:


Identify the following characters:

Delia Jones, Jim Merchant, Bertha, Sykes

Reading Questions:

  • What sort of work does Delia Jones do to make ends meet?
  • What object does Sykes carry with him when he drives the buggy and how does he use this item to frighten Delia?
  • What is Delia's worst phobia?
  • Why does Sykes declare that Delia is a hypocrite? Why does this accusation not seem fair given the source?
  • Why doesn't Sykes strike Delia this time the way he usually does? (What's different about her stance and body language?)
  • Who is Bertha?
  • Note the names of the figures who hang out at Joe Clarke's porch: Joe Lindsay, Jim Merchant, Walter Thomas, and Moss. How might these names be symbolic? How does their dialogue help characterize Delia? How does their dialogue help characterize Sykes?

Passages for Identification: Be able to identify the author, the work, the character speaking (if any) and briefly explain the significance or context of the passage.

A: "You done gone too fur. Ah been married to you fur fifteen years, and Ah been takin' in washin' for fifteen years. Sweat, sweat, sweata! Work and sweat, cry and sweat, pray and sweat!"

B. "[He] . . . aint wuth de shot an' powder hit would tek tuh kill 'em. . . . He aint fit tuh carry guts tuh a bear"

C: "There's plenty men dat takes a wife lak dey do a joint uh sugarcane. It's round, juicy an' sweet when dey gits it. But dey squeeze an' grind, squeeze an' grind an' wring tell dey wring every drop uh pleasure dat's in 'em out.. When dey's satisfied dat dey is wrung dry dey treats 'em jes lak dey do a cane-chew. Dey throws 'em away."

D: "An we oughter kill 'im" Old Man Anderson advised.
A grunt of approval went around the porch. But the heat was melting their civic virtue.

E. "She don't look lak a thing but a hunk uh liver wid hair on it."

F. "Ah hates you, Sykes," she said calmly. "Ah hates you tuh de same degree dat Ah useter love yuh. Ah done took an' took till mah belly is full up tuh mah neck. Dat's de reason Ah got mah letter fum de church an' moved mah membership tuh Woodbridge--so Ah don't haftuh take no sacrament wid yuh. Ah don't wantuh see yuh 'roun' me atall. Lay 'roun' wid dat 'woman all yuh wants tuh, but gwan 'way frum me an' mah house." Ah hates yuh lak uh suck-egg dog."


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