Zora Neale Hurston Analysis Essay

Below you will find three outstanding thesis statements / paper topics for “Sweat” by Zora Neale Hurston that can be used as essay starters. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in “Sweat” by Zora Neale Hurston and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements for Zora Neale Hurston's “Sweat” offer a summary of different elements that could be important in an essay but you are free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from “Sweat”at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent paper.

For background, here is an extended analysis and summary of “Sweat” by Zora Neale Hurston

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1 : Race and Racial Identity in “Sweat" by Zora Neale Hurston

Throughout “Sweat" by Zora Neale Hurston, race plays a larger role than one might initially expect and the way it is perceived by characters such as Sykes and Delia are drastically different. In fact, the argument could easily be made that this difference in perception causes some of the conflict with the married couple. While Delia is a “good" woman and goes to church and works hard for the white people whom she washes clothes for, her husband views her to be a hypocrite (see quote below about this). For this essay on “Sweat" by Zora Neale Hurston, find the few instances in the text where race is directly mentioned and explore the ways the character reacts to it. In addition, you might want to incorporate some of the ideas from the first topic above and look at race and gender.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2 : “Sweat" by Zora Neale Hurston as a Feminist Tale?

Zora Neale Hurston’s short story “Sweat" can be read as a work of feminist fiction, although not for the reason one would think. While it is true that she does allow herself to watch her cruel, unfaithful, and abusive husband die at the end, this is not necessarily a feminist act within itself—it is simply an end to the story. Although she takes abuse from her husband, Delia is actually a more empowered character than it may seem on first glance. She has built her own home, manages her finances, works hard, and takes pleasure in the results or her hard work. Generally, the only thing holding her back is her husband. For this essay, explore the ways in which Delia is meant to be seen as a strong woman rather than a passive one who takes abuse from Sykes. With the exception of the ending, look at ways she keeps herself going and how she is far more powerful than her husband, Bertha, or anyone else in the story.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: The “Townie" Interlude in “Sweat" by Zora Neale Hurston and Local Color / Regional Fiction

There are two significant aspects of “Sweat" by Zora Neale Hurston that make fall into a “local color" category. First of all, the dialects used by all the characters in the story (aside from the narrator—who oddly enough seems remarkably composed and even eloquent, especially compared with the dialog) give this story its character and also give the reader a sense of place. Without directly saying it, we can gather that the people in the story are not incredibly well-educated and that by the gossip, they live in a small rural town. The other aspect that leads to these conclusions is the dialect or speech itself. For this essay, examine the ways in which the dialects reflect the culture and how this aspect of language alone makes the story a work of regional fiction or less formally, local color writing. The best place to start with this topic is by looking at the scene where the men from town (Merchant, Joe, and Elijah Moseley) sit around gossip about Sykes and Delia. Why do you think such a scene would be included when the story is focused on Sykes and Delia?

For background, here is an extended analysis and summary of “Sweat” by Zora Neale Hurston

** For information on more works by Zora Neale Hurston, visit the “Their Eyes Were Watching God” PaperStarter page **


This list of important quotations from “Sweat” by Zora Neale Hurston will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned. All quotes from “Sweat” contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the text they are referring to.

“She had brought love to the union and he had brought a longing for the flesh" (1023).

“Yeah, you just come from de church house on a Sunday night, but heah you is gone to work on them clothes. You ain’t nothin’ but a hypocrite. One of them amen-corner Christians—sing and whoop and shout; then come home and wash white folks’ clothes on the Sabbath" (1023).

“Too late for everything except her little home. She had built it for her old days, and planted one by one the trees and flowers there. It was lovely—lovely" (1024).

“Too much knockin’ will ruin any ‘oman. He done beat huh ‘nough tuh kill three women, let alone change they looks" (1024).

“Bertha had been in town three months now. Sykes was paying her room rent at Della Lewis’—the only house in town that have taken her in" (1026).

“Ah hates you tuh the same degree dat Ah useter tove yuh" (1027).

:Fifteen years of misery and suppression had brought Delia to the place where she would hope anything that looked towards a way over or through her wall of inhibitions" (1028).

“She could scarcely reach the Chinaberry tree, where she waited in the growing heat wwhile inside she knew the cold river was creeping to extinguish the eye which must know by now that she knew"

All Quotes from The Norton Anthology of African-American Literature (Henry Louis Gates Jr. eds) 2003.


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Zora Neale Hurston’s use of language in her short story Spunk allows the reader to become part of the community in which this story takes place. The story is told from the point of view of the characters, and Hurston writes the dialogue in their broken English dialect. Although the language is somewhat difficult to understand initially, it adds to the mystique of the story. Spunk is a story about a man that steals another man’s wife, kills the woman’s husband and then he ends up dying from an accident at the saw mill. Spunk believed that it was Lena’s husband, Joe Kanty, who shoved him into the circular saw, and the people in the village agreed that Joe Kanty had come back to get revenge. The language used by the characters helps to…show more content…

Not only does Joe know that his wife is going out with Spunk, but everybody in the town knows. This is a brilliant way to draw the reader into the story; we feel bad for Joe. His pride is at stake and he has no alternative but to take some action against Spunk. Joe knows that his razor is no match for Spunk’s gun, but his back is against the wall. He is the laughing stock of the town because Spunk has made a fool of him. “Well,” Spunk announced calmly, “Joe come out there wid a meatax an’ made me kill him.” The men glared at Elijah, accusingly. His words had pushed Joe to do something and Spunk had killed him.
Now that Joe was dead, the expectation would be for Spunk and Lena to move forward with their relationship. “Joe’s death was a clear case of self defense, the trial was a short one, and Spunk walked out of the court house to freedom again”. Spunk was free, but now the excitement begins. Zora Neale Hurston uses symbolism to introduce the reader to the world of voodoo. Hurston had visited Haiti and Jamaica in the 1930s and had become very interested in the practice of voodoo. Elijah tells us in the story that Spunk sees a black bob-cat that “looked him in the eye, an’ howled right at him”. The thing got Spunk so nervoused up he couldn’t shoot. Spunk says it was Joe done sneaked back from Hell!”
Later in the story, Elijah tells us that Spunk dies from being cut by the saw and Spunk believed that Joe had pushed him in the back. Elijah believed it too.

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