Spunk Analysis

Style and Technique (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In Dust Tracks on a Road, Hurston relates her mother’s dying moments:As I crowded in, they lifted up the bed and turned it around so that Mama’s eyes would face east. I thought that she looked to me as the head of the bed reversed. Her mouth was slightly open, but her breathing took up so much of her strength that she could not talk. But she looked at me, or so I felt, to speak for her. She depended on me for a voice.

Hurston fulfilled this destiny in her stories and novels; the African American voice is the first thing that a reader notices when reading Hurston’s work. In her article “Characteristics of Negro Expression” (1934), Hurston describes African Americans’ urge to adorn language and lists their linguistic techniques, such as metaphors and similes (“mule blood—black molasses”); double descriptives (“low-down”); verbal nouns (“funeralize”); and nouns from verbs (“he won’t stand straightening”). She disproves the notion that the black idiom is spoken by people of inferior intellect and sensibility. Instead, she asserts that their skill at embellishing the English language is the result of their belief that there can never be enough beauty, let alone too much.

The outcome of “Spunk” turns on the townspeople’s ability to manipulate Joe Kanty through their verbal dexterity. When Elijah first spots Spunk and Lena sauntering off to be alone, he cries out for all to hear: “Theah they go, big as life an’ brassy as tacks.” His judgment shapes the villagers’ perception of the situation. He reinforces his message by using colorful language. He tells the other men that Spunk is not afraid of anything on “God’s green footstool”; that by strutting around with another man’s wife, Spunk does not “give a kitty.” Joe, on the other hand, is “a rabbit-foot colored man.” When it is Spunk’s turn to be frightened of the bobcat, he gets so “nervoused up” that he cannot shoot. By first introducing the story of the bobcat and making the others—perhaps even Spunk himself—believe in it, Elijah helps to move the story to its grim conclusion.

Spunk Historical Context

The Harlem Renaissance
When Hurston arrived in New York City in 1925, it was to become a part an intellectual, literary, and...

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Spunk Literary Style

Point of View and Narration
‘‘Spunk’’ is structured as a series of stories within a story, and it has different levels...

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Spunk Compare and Contrast

1887: Eatonville was incorporated as an allblack, self-governing community. It provided residents an opportunity to live normal lives...

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Spunk Topics for Further Study

• Find out what you can about how an old-fashioned saw-mill worked. What was the job Spunk was doing when he rode logs near the blade? What...

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Spunk Media Adaptations

In 1990, playwright George C. Wolfe produced Spunk, a musical stage adaptation of three of Hurston’s short stories. Although the...

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Spunk What Do I Read Next?

• ‘‘The Gilded Six-Bits’’ (1933), one of Hurston’s most popular and well-known stories. Set in Eatonville, it tells of the...

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Spunk Bibliography and Further Reading

Sources

Bone, Robert. ‘‘Zora Hurston.’’ In Down Home: Origins of the Afro-American Short Story, New York:...

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Spunk Bibliography (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Awkward, Michael, ed. New Essays on “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Boyd, Valerie. Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston. New York: Scribner, 2003.

Campbell, Josie P. Student Companion to Zora Neale Hurston. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001.

Croft, Robert W. A Zora Neale Hurston Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002.

Cronin, Gloria L., ed. Critical Essays on Zora Neale Hurston. New York: G. K. Hall, 1998.

Grant, Nathan....

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