The short story “Sweat”, written by Zora Neale Hurston, tells a story of an unhappy couple. The protagonist Delia suffers greatly in her marriage with an abusive husband. She is the one to work and earn money, and he only spends what she earns on another woman. Delia is a washerwoman, who does the washing for white people. One spring evening, when she is working on her laundry and pondering where her husband Sykes is, she suddenly feels that a snake has fallen on her and rapped her around the shoulders. When the shock passes, she realizes that it was not a real snake, but a bullwhip that her husband uses when riding a horse. At this point, the reader realizes that only a cruel and abusive husband would joke that way.
They start an argument which progresses into a big fight. Delia is upset, because he scared her to death and Sykes could not stand the white people’s laundry in his home. He deliberately ruins the pile of laundry she has stacked so neatly, and at the same time shows his rudeness and disrespect. Usually, Delia would just keep quiet and bottle up her anger, but this time she speaks back to him, expressing her disappointment and dissatisfaction. Sykes is taken aback and, as said in the text, does not strike her as usual. This is another proof of abusive behavior Delia has to put up with.
Then the husband finally leaves Delia alone to think over her unhappy marriage and miserable life. Sykes is not the one to get depressed though. He is sleeping with another woman Bertha and spends his wife’s money on the gifts for his mistress. Delia is aware of that and she presupposes that what comes around goes around. She believes that he will be punished for his actions.
Some time passes and the fights in the unhappy household start to intensify. There are no more peaceful interludes between them. They either scream at each other or keep silent. One afternoon Sykes comes back home with a strange box. However, what is inside petrifies Delia and she is begging him to get rid of it. It is a real rattlesnake, and Sykes refuses to give it away. On the next day, Delia comes back home to find out that the snake is loose. She gets out of the house and hides to see her husband walk home from work. And although she knows that the snake is loose inside, she does nothing about it. Basically, she lets him die.