Spunk Themes

Themes and Meanings (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Zora Neale Hurston’s fiction centers on the people, events, and customs of her hometown, Eatonville, Florida—which is distinguished for being the first incorporated African American township in the United States. Author Alice Walker strongly praises Hurston for the “racial health” that Hurston exhibits in her work and “for exposing not simply an adequate culture, but a superior one.” Hurston believed that the greatest cultural wealth of the continent could be mined in towns of the black South, such as Eatonville. There, one could show how the “Negro farthest down” was “the god-maker, the creator of everything that lasts.”

These beliefs explain why Hurston became an anthropologist and sought to preserve the Eatonville folktales, anecdotes, and beliefs in her book, Mules and Men (1935). In her fiction, however, Hurston portrays the townfolk in a much more realistic manner. Joe’s bravery in going after the much larger man is undercut by the fact that he attacks Spunk from behind. Walter’s compassion toward the Kantys is undercut by Elijah’s mean-spirited, nosy, loud-mouthed behavior. Elijah slaps his leg gleefully when he sees Spunk and Lena head for the bushes in the beginning of the story. Later, through his taunts and teasing, he all but pushes Joe to seek revenge, knowing that Joe is the much weaker opponent.

The townspeople fare no better. From the porch of the store, they view the whole incident as a form...

(The entire section is 426 words.)

Spunk Themes

Courage and Cowardice
The most important theme in ‘‘Spunk’’ is suggested by its title: since the nineteenth century, the...

(The entire section is 944 words.)