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Biblical Allusions in Sweat by Neale Zora Hurston
Transcript of Biblical Allusions in Sweat by Neale Zora Hurston
I chose to explore the biblical allusions in the short story Sweat by Neale Zora Hurston.
The bible is quite significant in history and in regards to African American culture it has been a source of strength and faith. It was also used as evidence against slavery.
Garden of Eden
Image by Tom Mooring
Biblical Allusions in Sweat by Neale Zora Hurston
ALLUSION TO SATAN:
Represents evil, mentioned in reference to Satan
Skyes "Strikes a match along the leg of his corduroy breeches"
A display of control
Strengthens parallel between satan and Skyes
Bertha is Skyes mistress he brings into Delias home
Delia has struggled to earn her home, a safe space for her and her beliefs
Genesis 1:2- Lucifer attempts to overthrow heaven
Ultimately Skyes is trying to overthrow Delias Heaven, much like Satan tried to overthrow gods heaven
Hurston uses biblical allusions and religious symbolism to create a parallel between the characters in Sweat and biblical figures to magnify the morality issues present in the text.
Through allusions to master/slave relationships and religious symbolism, Hurston also conveys the struggle and victory of feminism.
Sweat is filled with symbols such as The Garden of Eden, Snakes, White clothing and Satan.
Delia carries the theme of faith through each challenge she faces. She clings to her faith in God to survive her abusive husband and finds strength and tolerance within her religion; while her husband believes only in his own masculinity.
Hurston creates Delia to stand as an image of an independent, religious, African American to argue the power of women.
"Something long, round, limp and black fell upon her shoulders and slithered to the floor"
Portrays Skyes as a powerful, demanding, violent slave master
snakes are phallic symbols- represents male dominance
Skyes works to make Delia aware of this role society expects of her
During this time period African American women faced racism and sexism
Delia works to defy this image of women
Snake represents Satan
Delia spends her days cleaning the clothes of white families. After Church one day she was cleaning a pile of white clothing and skyes came in and "Stepped roughly upon the whitest pile of things, kicking them helter-skelter as he crossed the room" (2)
Shows Skyes disrespect and abuse
The white clothes represent innocence, virtue and Delias saintly tendencies
Skyes is soiling the pure white clothes with dirt and in a sense, he is soiling the life of his pure, innocent wife, with his dirty impure soul
As Adam and Eve are exiled from the Garden of Eden, Delia is exiled from the spiritual life she wishes to have. She cannot achieve this with Skyes around.
Delias home is like Eves Eden. She "Had built it for her old days and planted one by one the trees and flowers there"
"Delias work worn knees crawled over the earth in Gethsemane and up the rocks of Calvary many, many times.."
Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane the day before he was crucified, which could illustrate Delia as a christ figure
Her determination creates a sense of feminism as she test her limits and overcomes the controlled, moral-less life Skyes has tried to push onto her
Delia as Eve
Eve gives into the temptation of eating the apple; Delia gives into allowing her husbands death to occur with no attempt to intervene
This normally would be an act of obeying god in Delias eyes
Turning point of Delias progression as a character
This action of not helping Skyes reveals Delias desire for rebirth and a change in the direction her life was moving in
By ending the novel this way, Hurston is placing emphasis on feminsism and the strength women can have against male figures
Delilah, a cunning woman who appears in the Bible.
Delilah in Hebrew means Amorous, delight, languishing, temptress. I
In the Bible Sampson was a man who gained strength from his growing faith in god. The Philistines desired to find the source of this power Sampson held and urged Delilah to figure it out for them. Sampson fell in love with Delilah as she lured him into revealing the secrets of his strength. She then betrayed him to the Philistines, thus leading him to his death.
Delilah is a prime example of greed and deception. Although Delia did not put the snake in the house to kill Skyes she still allowed him to die. She succumbed to the desire of freeing herself from him, which can be interpreted as selfish.
Instead of deceiving a man for money, Delia took part in the death of Skyes for her rebirth and a better life. Delilah and Delia both desired something and achieved it. They showed initiative, strength, and feminism.
Light & Dark
Prior to Skyes death, the sky was gray and ominous but as Skyes succumbed to the snake’s venom, the sun started the rise.
Delia didn’t move as Skyes called for her and yet “the sun kept rising”.
The light rises, as the darkness in Delia’s life fades away. This symbolizes the virtue of Delia being victorious over evil as the “Light of goodness shines in the celebration of evils death”
Delia in American culture actually means “dark”. Which is ironic since Hurston portrays Delia as light and Sky as darkness. Delia even defies the meaning of her name.
We sweat when we are trying to rid our bodies of fevers; we sweat while trying to rid of body fat. We sweat to flush ourselves of unwanted, harmful things.
Just as Delia was doing what she could to rid herself of Skyes. Sweating can be seen as a rebirth, a restart of her life as she changes into who she desires to be. It is something that is flushed out and then is washed away.
Skye represents impureness and sin; in regards to this allusion he is the ‘sweat’ in Delia’s life. But by the end of the short story, Skye is dead, and the bad in Delia’s life has been flushed out.
If we look deeper into Skyes’ death, we see a theme of justice. While discussing the snake situation in the house Delia tells Skyes, “Oh well, whatever goes over the Devil's back, is got to come under his belly. Sometime or ruther, Sykes, like everybody else is gointer reap his sowing" (29).
Essentially Skyes placed the snake in the house with the intention of it killing Delia, but ironically the snake kills him in the end, and justice is served.
When looking at this situation from a religious context, according to Champion, “the snake represents Satan, and since Skyes brings in the snake, he is bringing Satan into the house. The darkness in which Skyes is surrounded at the end of the story suggests his spiritual blindness”. He mocked the faith that Delia held to such a high value and in the end, ironically, a form of Satan was what killed him.
By examining this particular work of Hurston,we can get a
“better sense of the contribution of the Harlem Renaissance to the discourses of race, masculinity, and religion in American culture” (Powers 243). Her views of masculinity, feminism and Christianity are found in the symbolism, allusions, and relationships in Sweat.
Thompson argues that instead of focusing on racial issues in her writing, Hurston works to reveal the gender problems in society, “Especially in light of contemporary feminist ideology” (738).
Through Delia, Hurston portrays the feminist mindset that she wants society to obtain. Sweat almost serves as a call to action to the oppressed females who live underneath a controlling male figure, not necessarily of a specific race.
There is an apparent focus on religion, which can be found through Delia and Skye’s relationship. Religion is something that provides the strength, tolerance, and empowerment that women need to create the life they deserve.
Sweat portrays the strength one can find from faith and what a single women is capable of doing. This short story was used to empowering women, who like Delia needed to find the light in a time of darkness
Delia’s faith guides her towards rebirth and freedom from sin. She finds strength in her soul and religious identity. Hurston’s use of allusions and symbolism paint an image that gives the reader a glimpse into the soul of not only Delia, but also African American Females.
By Julie Gleason