The story of "Sweat" by Zora Neale Hurston is filled with many moral and religious symbols. This story is about an everyday run of the mill black, hardworking woman in the South and how she keeps to her faith in God to see her through the hell she is put through dealing with a scumbag and abusive husband. Throughout this story there is are several religious symbolism that show how Delia and Sykes are two people on a different moral spectrum when it comes to good and evil, but they are confined to a marriage that neither of them want, and cannot get out of. This marriage also shows that they can no longer depict their love each other.
Delia Jones works her hands to the bone so to speak, and she uses her beliefs in God to shield her from her husband's barrage of every type of abuse imaginable. From the very beginning of the story, Delia shows how she takes pride in her work, her small personality, and her strong faith in God. Delia is shown as being battered down and physically weak from the years of work and abuse from Sykes, and she is still strong in her faith. Throughout the story it talks about her worn hands and knees, and the lack looks that she once possessed.
Completely opposite of Delia's character is her husband, Sykes. Sykes Jones is against everything that Delia does. He is physically abusive toward his wife, and he takes advantage of their marriage by using all of Delia's money she gets from washing clothes on his rather large significant other Bertha. While Sykes is physically strong from what the book says no faith in God. Delia is a polar opposite and is physically weak and her strength is in the lord and she tries to have patience with her husband. In the end her way of being patient seems to payoff and outwork Sykes brute strength.
Certain objects and situations in the story suggest the influence of religion. The white clothes Delia washes in the story are symbolic of her character. White represents her worth and saintly ways as she handles Sykes' torture. The religious connection of Sykes is his use of snakes and evil shown twice in this story. Sykes uses a whip to scare Delia by rubbing it on her shoulder and making her think it was a snake. This is when it is first shown how petrified of snakes Delia is. She screams, "Sykes, why you throw dat whip on me like dat? You know it would skeer me looks just like a snake, an' you knows how skeered Ah is of snakes."(Hurston 133) Also, later in the story Sykes places a real snake near the front door hiding it in a soapbox to scare the hell out of Delia. These two examples of using the snake can be used as a biblical example from the story of Adam and Eve when Satan took the form of a snake. Also, from this reference it shows that the story clearly makes Sykes out to be an inherently evil character.
The pattern of good and evil in this story comes down to a well set up and clever conclusion. Sykes own violent actions towards Delia throughout the story end up being his demise. In the end when the snake that Sykes uses to scare Delia gets loose and she flees the house, but Sykes enters the house unknowingly and makes way too much noise in the kitchen and the snake bites him. The sun starts to come up rather quickly after he has been bitten. The sunrise is symbolic of Delia's freedom from Sykes and all the evil and bad things he represents. When Sykes is dead, the sun has finally risen and Delia gets the independence that she deserves. This happening also shows that it is a new day and Delia get the chance she has always wanted to get her fresh start.