Study Guide

Sykes Jones in Sweat

Sykes Jones

Oh man, where to start? We've got a lot of words to describe Sykes—cowardly, mean, unfaithful, childlike, cruel—but we think Hurston does a much better job in the description/insult department. Half of the pleasure we get out of reading Hurston's stories is her inventive and rich, local language, unique to a small town in central Florida.

We've compiled some of the more memorable descriptions we get of Sykes, with helpful translations to make sure we don't miss the sting each one carries:

Sykes Jones aint wuth de shot an' powder hit would tek tuh kill 'em. (34)

Translation: Why kill Sykes? You'd just be wasting the gunpowder.

Ah hates yuh lak uh suck-egg dog. (79)

Translation: Delia hates Sykes as much as she would hate a mangy dog that won't stop eating all her eggs.

Yo' ole black hide don't look lak nothin' tuh me, but uh passle uh wrinkled up rubber, wid yo' big ole yeahs flappin' on each side lak uh paih uh buzzard wings. (82)

Translation: A guy who looks like a bag of wrinkled rubber with flappy ears is definitely no Denzel Washington.

It's more than clear that Sykes is not a popular guy. He's the sort of character we love to hate, but is also unfortunately based on real-life sleazy guys. In that sense, Hurston uses Sykes as a joke and a warning, a study on machismo and cruelty. He's the kind of guy your mom warns you about and makes your dad cringe.

On the flipside, Delia could also be seen as a warning to Hurston's female readers. While it may seem obvious that being in an abusive relationship is no good, let's face it—it happens. Still, Hurston proves to us, through Delia, that change is always possible.