Analysis of Zora Neale Hurston’s Spunk Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 30 March 2016

Analysis of Zora Neale Hurston’s Spunk

Zora Neale Hurston’s use of language in her short story Spunk allows the reader to become part of the community in which this story takes place. The story is told from the point of view of the characters, and Hurston writes the dialogue in their broken English dialect. Although the language is somewhat difficult to understand initially, it adds to the mystique of the story. Spunk is a story about a man that steals another man’s wife, kills the woman’s husband and then he ends up dying from an accident at the saw mill. Spunk believed that it was Lena’s husband, Joe Kanty, who shoved him into the circular saw, and the people in the village agreed that Joe Kanty had come back to get revenge. The language used by the characters helps to establish the setting of the story and gives the reader an understanding of why voodoo is a plausible explanation for the outcome. “Looka theah folkses!” is what Elijah Mosley states to the others in the store. This is the first indication that the characters in this short story are not the most educated, and are probably from some small backwoods town.

We quickly get confirmation of this when we learn that he is alerting them that Spunk Banks, a giant, brown-skinned man, “who aint skeered of nothin’ on God’s green footstool”, is sauntering up the one street in the village, with a small pretty woman clinging lovingly to his arm. Clearly, the store is where people hang out, and everyone knows that the woman with Spunk is Lena Kanty, Joe’s wife. Coming from a large city, I would not expect everyone to know each other, so seeing a couple walking down the street would not be significant to me. In this context however, I understand that something is not right and trouble is coming. When Joe walked in to the store, the talking ceased; the men looked at each other and winked. “Say, Joe, how’s everything up yo’ way? How’s yo’ wife?” asked Elijah. Spoken like a friend, but it is clear that he is trying to start some mess. “Aw “Lige, you oughtn’t to do nothin’ like that” Walter grumbled. This dialogue makes the conflict between Spunk and Joe very clear. Not only does Joe know that his wife is going out with Spunk, but everybody in the town knows.

This is a brilliant way to draw the reader into the story; we feel bad for Joe. His pride is at stake and he has no alternative but to take some action against Spunk. Joe knows that his razor is no match for Spunk’s gun, but his back is against the wall. He is the laughing stock of the town because Spunk has made a fool of him. “Well,” Spunk announced calmly, “Joe come out there wid a meatax an’ made me kill him.” The men glared at Elijah, accusingly. His words had pushed Joe to do something and Spunk had killed him. Now that Joe was dead, the expectation would be for Spunk and Lena to move forward with their relationship. “Joe’s death was a clear case of self defense, the trial was a short one, and Spunk walked out of the court house to freedom again”. Spunk was free, but now the excitement begins. Zora Neale Hurston uses symbolism to introduce the reader to the world of voodoo. Hurston had visited Haiti and Jamaica in the 1930s and had become very interested in the practice of voodoo. Elijah tells us in the story that Spunk sees a black bob-cat that “looked him in the eye, an’ howled right at him”.

The thing got Spunk so nervoused up he couldn’t shoot. Spunk says it was Joe done sneaked back from Hell!” Later in the story, Elijah tells us that Spunk dies from being cut by the saw and Spunk believed that Joe had pushed him in the back. Elijah believed it too. Revenge is a powerful emotion and in this story, it is the best explanation for Spunk’s death. Based on the dynamics of the town, everyone believed it to be possible that Joe caused Spunk’s death. Because they believed it, I believed it. It is their world. Zora Neal Hurston was criticized by other African American writers for her use of dialect and folk speech. Richard Wright was one of her harshest critics and likened Hurston’s technique “to that of a minstrel show designed to appease a white audience” (www.pbs.org).Given the time frame, the Harlem Renaissance, it is understandable that Zora Neale Hurston may be criticized.

The Harlem Renaissance was a cultural movement which redefined how America, and the world, viewed African Americans, so her folk speech could be seen as perpetuating main stream society’s view of African Americans as ignorant and incapable of speaking in complete sentences. However, others, such as philosopher and critic Alain Locke, praised her. He considered Hurston’s “gift for poetic phrase and rare dialect, a welcome replacement for so much faulty local color fiction about Negroes” (www.pbs.org). The language in this short story allowed the reader to enter this community and gain an understanding of their world.

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  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 30 March 2016

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