“Sweat” and a Masculinity Complex

The phrase “boys will be boys” is a time-old phrase used to counteract the actions of men. This phrase comes from a culture where it is deemed normal for a man to be unfaithful, rough, rude, among many other unlikeable traits. In Zora Neale Hurston’s “Sweat,” this toxic masculinity was on full display through Delia’s  husband Sykes and his actions through his cheating and abuse of her. Only two months after they first got married, he began to abuse her and taunt her playing off of her fear of snakes. Him purposely using her fear of snakes as a way to taunt her or control her is a profound form of abuse. This along with the fact he was harsh with her and her choice of work, and was pursuing another woman on the side, Delia made the decision to not be with him anymore and he went to stay with the other woman he was seeing, Bertha. Throughout the story it was evident that he cared more about Bertha, yet he chose to stay with Delia. This is because he knew he had a level of control over her and didn’t want to lose it. Being unemployed, it was like making her miserable and keeping her under his control was like a daily occupation. It is in this masculinity complex, especially for the African American male, to be hard and to have control over his house.

Also within the works of the masculinity complex, is the idea of like a bro-code if you will . This idea is shown through the silence of the other men when Sykes came into the shop with Bertha. Because of town gossip they all knew that Sykes was unfaithful to Delia, and even spoke about how messed up it is, but once he walked into the shop with Bertha, they all grew silent. Their silence isn’t a sign of minding their business because they sit around together and gossip. It is a sign of their conformity to what he is doing, and accepting the fact that this is the way he, and other men like him are, yet they do nothing about it. Sykes and his womanizing ways are looked at as just another form of masculinity by his peers. This behavior should not be made normal for men, yet for years it has been and probably will continue to be. 

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