What are the literary themes and symbols in Zora Neale Hurston's short story "Spunk"?

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litgeek2015 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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This story of Hurston's has a few central themes, some of which overlap: cowardice, marriage (with a focus on adultery), aggression, and even power. 

Cowardice is seen from the beginning when Joe, Lena's husband, is put in a position of being told about his wife's indiscretions. Joe is described as a weaker man than Lena's new lover, Spunk. Joe is also forced into acting, even though that is probably not in his nature.

Spunk actually symbolizes aggression, but the actions that take place as a result of his behavior also create aggression in others, like Joe, who gets into a fight with him and then dies over Lena.

Power in this story is constantly shifting. At first Spunk seems to hold all of the power, but after Joe's death, he and Lena are haunted by a large black cat, which the townspeople later believe pushes Spunk into the saw. This could be seen as Joe regaining power after death.

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