Analysis of "Sweat" (How I...)

The writing assignment for this week asks that you analyze how Hurston's writing is both a celebration or tribute to the lives of ordinary African Americans while also being a departure form the philosophies and beliefs that were central to the Harlem Renaissance. While I will not be writing my version of this (because then I'd be doing the work itself for you), I will detail how I would go about writing this.


  1. Find examples of Hurston paying tribute the lives of ordinary African American's

  2. Find examples of Hurston writing in the spirit of the Harlem Renaissance.

  3. Find examples of Hurston writing outside of the spirit of the Harlem Renaissance.

  4. Create a draft that includes and supports a specific thesis.


The prompt asks that I identify ways in which Hurston's writing is a tribute to the lives of ordinary African Americans. This means that I must show that her writing is appreciative or respectful of those ordinary African American lives. To find evidence of this in Hurston's writing, I'm going to look for places where:

  • The labors and joys of ordinary Afr. Am. characters are given attention

  • Afr. Am. characters speak in a way that demonstrates the richness of their everyday language (this would be the use of dialect in particular)

  • ordinary Afr. Am. characters are described or developed in ways that make readers relate to, appreciate, or champion them.


The prompt notes that to an extent "the story does not represent the spirit of the Harlem Renaissance." This does not mean that Hurston's short story is a complete departure from the ideas of the Harlem Renaissance, and as a result it is best to identify ways in which she does seem to be writing in the mode of the HR. In this case, I'm going to look for examples of Hurston's writing that seems to support the philosophies of the Harlem Renaissance, an incomplete list of which follows.:

  • Open exploration of difficult social issues, including sex/race/gender

  • Representations of middle and upper-class African Americans, especially in their dress (formal clothing)

  • Acknowledge and fight against traditional, prejudiced views of Afr. Am.s; these portrayals included the loyal, meek, friendly, savage, uneducated, and entertaining/funny negro

  • Art as a means of protest against inequality

  • Celebrates the heritage and traditions of African culture

  • Optimistic view of the future

  • Attempts to reveal struggles and conflicts of the Afr. Am. in white society (incl. Jim Crow)

  • Celebration of successful Afr. Am. figures.

  • Joy of jazz music, especially the piano (which was expensive and a sign of wealth)

  • The importance of community

  • The role of Christianity

It is worth noting that there may be other elements of the Harlem Renaissance missing from this list.


Now that I have examples of Hurston writing in the Harlem Renaissance style, I need to find examples of ways in which she strays from these philosophies. Ideally, I would find examples that provide a nice contrast with the details I found in Step Two or relate to the examples I found in Step One.


The last step is to draft a response that includes and supports a good thesis. The thesis needs to combine the ideas above and might look something like the following:

Zora Neale Hurston's "Sweat" demonstrates a Harlem Renaissance author's willingness challenge the cultural movement of the time so as to celebrate the lives of ordinary African Americans.


Despite often writing within the themes of the Harlem Renaissance, "Sweat" shows Hurston forging her own path to pay tribute to the ordinary African American who was often forgotten during the Harlem Renaissance.

It is important to note that you cannot use either of those thesis' word for word, but I hope they provide you with guidance. You will likely want to locate this thesis toward the end of your introductory paragraph, after first introducing the author, the text, and the Harlem Renaissance.

The remainder of your response will likely have one paragraph for each of the steps above. The introduction, of course, is where Step Four comes in to play. After that, I would probably write about how Hurston stays consistent with the ideals of the HR (Step Three), then how she challenges those ideals (Step Two), before finally focusing on the reason why she departs from those ideals (Step One). This is only one organizational structure, and you can change it to suit you. 

The last step is to include a conclusion paragraph that wraps up big ideas, connects to big ideals (like why the author/text/movement was important), and restates the thesis in a fresh way. 


With any luck you have already done your homework by the time this posts, but I hope that even in that scenario you can use this to provide some guidance for how you might add/modify the work you have done (or to confirm that you have done an excellent job!)

(Originally Posted April 17th, 2016)