Who are the round, flat, and supporting characters in the short story "Spunk" by Zora Neale Hurston?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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While the third-person narrator provides the first and last lines of the story and provides some analyses of characters, it is the gossip Elizah Mosley who drives the narrative. 

ROUND CHARACTERS [characters who exhibit complexity, undergoing development of some kind]

  • Spunk Bates - "A giant of a brown-skinned man," who walks brashly with another man's wife past the men seated on the porch. He is the main character as he creates the conflict with Joe Kanty, then kills him, and is later killed himself.
  • Elijah Mosley - This is the town gossip and instigator, who moves the narrative. In the beginning, he ignites Joe Kanty's pride and jealousy by telling him that his wife just passed by with Spunk on his arm, Joe responds "Ah'm goin' after her to-day." Of course, Elijah has spurred Joe to action because Joe already knew that they knew of the affair, but when Elijah voices this knowledge, Joe has no recourse for his self-esteem but to act.

“Talkin‘ like a man, Joe. Course that’s yo’ fambly affairs, but Ah like to see grit in anybody.”  

It is also Elijah who moves the characters from one place to another. For instance, the men watch Joe as he leaves with his razor. In the meantime, Elijah fills the men in on what has already occurred between Joe and his wife Lena. When Spunk emerges from the brush, claiming that Joe attacked him, the other men look at Elijah "accusingly."

After Spunk is acquitted, Elijah continues to spark interest by telling the others that Spunk is going to marry Lena. He exhibits no feeling for anyone; they are merely material for his stories that he taunts in order to have more interesting narratives.

  • Joe Kanty - Spurred to action by the instigator, Elijah Joe tries to reclaim his wife, but is shot by Spunk.
  • Lena Kanty - The unfaithful wife of Joe, she is bold in her adultery, crying only for her fear for Spunk after he murders her husband.
  • Walter Thomas - Walter is a character who has opinions. As he talks with Elijah about the bob-cat that Spunk thinks he has seen, Walter comments,

“Humph!” sniffed Walter, “he oughter be nervous after what he done. Ah reckon Joe come back to dare him to marry Lena, or to come out an' fight. Ah bet he’ll be back time and agin, too. Know what Ah think? Joe wuz a braver man than Spunk.”

  • Joe’s father - Although he has a small part, this man changes from being "afraid to come within ten feet of him [Spunk] and stands over the injured man who has killed his son "leering triumphantly."

FLAT CHARACTERS [ often minor characters who are the same at the end of a narrative as they were in the beginning] 

  • Ike Clarke - the store owner who says nothing; he only lights the lanterns when the sun sets.
  • Skint Miller - man who works at the mill and witnesses how Spunk has changed.

STOCK CHARACTERS/SUPPORTING CHARACTERS

  • Ike Clarke - the store owner
  • mill hand - he talks with others at the store saying about Spunk, "I’m skeered of dat man when he gits hot. He’d beat you full of button holes as quick as he’s look etcher.”
  • the men and women at the funeral of Spunk, "everyone in the village"
  • 'Tes Miller - a man cut on a circular saw who is alluded to early in the narrative by the porch sitters. 
Sources:

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