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Narrative Strategy in Hurston’s Sweat

The narrative strategy and point of view in Zora Neale Hurston’s “Sweat” mold the reader’s understanding of the story. They craft the personalities of both Delia and Sykes as well as developing their relationship. The choice of a third person omniscient narrator charges the story with more brutal honesty than would any other type of narration. The scene where the village men discuss Sykes and Delia holds relevance as a narrative tool and explores an alternative point of view to the narrator.

The narrator draws the character sketches of both Sykes and Delia. Hurston lets us see their thoughts that allow her to develop their personalities rapidly and thoroughly. In a story of roughly only seven and a half pages Hurston manages to create vivid and complex characters. Much of this can be credited to her choice of narration. Long passages of narration mixed with the dialogue design a relationship fed on pain:

” She lay awake, gazing upon the debris that cluttered their matrimonial trail. Not an image left standing along the way. Anything like flowers had long ago been drowned in the salty stream that had been pressed from her heart. Her tears, her sweat, her blood” (1675).

Since the thoughts of Sykes and Delia are so different, a series of contrasts develops their relationship and personalities. Hurston’s choice of narrator lends believability to the entire story and makes Delia’s plight more extreme. If Delia were the one telling the story things would be quite different. The reader would not give her version of the story the same credibility he gives that of an outside narrator. It also makes the reader more sympathetic for Delia. A combination of what Delia feels and what Sykes does to her leads the reader to feel sympathetically towards her. This can be clearly seen with the addition of Bertha–the other woman in Sykes life. “Too late now to hope for love, even if it were not Bertha it would be someone else ” (1675). What happens to her seems truthful and real which directs the reader’s expected reaction to the story.

The scene where the men of the town discuss Delia and Sykes rounds the view of the characters. In this passage perhaps the most significant lines in the story can be found: “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” (1677). The reader’s perception of the characters gains strength in this section. It also adds to the appearance of detatched and truthful narration.

All of the important facets of the story–the character development and their interactions, meaning, plot, symbolism–develop either directly or indirectly from the narration. All other aspects of the story rise from the skeleton of the narration and point of view. Hurston’s choice of narration channels the entire story and guides the reader through his understanding of it.

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