Zola Neale Hurston described Delia Jones—the main female character in the short story—as a patient woman, a typical black female. Delia kept quiet whatever her mean husband did to her—e.g. kicking or beating her. She did not fight him back maybe because she had a small and thin body, she would not win the fight! Besides, a woman was not supposed to “oppose” her own husband. However, her hatred toward the husband whom she used to love deeply gradually became bigger and bigger and it exploded at the end. Delia kept quiet too when she saw her husband bitten by the rattlesnake, she did not do anything, just watched the accident from a distance. Delia knew that in fact Sykes wanted her to be bitten by the snake when he put it in the bedroom. Therefore, she did not help him when Sykes finally was the one who was bitten by the poisonous snake.
A woman who had to undergo bad treatment from a husband who is supposed to love and treat her well will do the same thing as what Delia has done. It is logical. If the woman helps to rescue the husband who has tortured her for years and has wanted to kill her indirectly by putting the snake in the bedroom, she is not a normal human being. She must be a saint!!!
Hurston describes Sykes Jones—the main male character in the story—as quite typical black uneducated male in America. He considered his wife as his property so that he could do anything he liked. It is up to him whether he wanted to treat her well or to beat her. It is a kind of an unconscious revenge when it is connected to the slavery time. The slaveholders treated the slaves as their property so that they could do anything they wanted. The black slave males could not fight back their owners. (Frederick Douglass’s beating Mr. Covey his master was an uncommon sense; as a very intelligent person, Douglass knew that it would help himself from his master’s cruelty. Other black slave males did not do that.) After the slavery time was over, the black males still could not take revenge toward the white men—racial discrimination existed until 1960s in America. One thing they could not for revenge is just to mistreat their wives to their heart’s content. No wonder if Hurston describes Sykes Jones like that.
A paper I wrote in America’s Multi-Cultural Literature, March 2003