Download Spunk Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Spunk Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In a small town in central Florida that is populated exclusively by African Americans, Walter Thomas and Elijah Mosley are sitting on the porch of a store. They notice that Lena Kanty has disappeared into the nearby palmetto bushes with Spunk Banks, who is not her husband.

Unconcerned about town gossip, Spunk and Lena continue down their brazen path, oblivious to the fact that Joe Kanty, Lena’s beleaguered husband, has entered the store. Walter and Elijah, who function like a Greek chorus, mock the shy husband and warn him that he is about to be cuckolded. Joe is fully aware of the implications of Spunk and Lena’s behavior; he knows that the men at the store have seen her, and he knows they know he knows. Joe pulls out a razor and claims that Spunk has gone too far.

After Joe leaves in search of Lena and Spunk, Walter and Elijah reflect on their role in this family drama. Walter criticizes Elijah for mocking Joe and taunting him to action. Elijah defends himself by saying it is not decent for a man to accept such behavior. Walter then points out Spunk’s physical superiority and prowess as a fighter: Spunk is the only man in the village brave enough to ride the circle saw at the sawmill. If Spunk and Joe were to tangle, Joe would not fare well.

Lena’s role in this triangle is obvious to all the observers, except Joe. She is in love with Spunk and wants to leave her husband for him. Spunk claims her for his own. The issue is settled definitively when Joe, after following the couple into the palmetto bushes, is killed by Spunk in self-defense.

Spunk and Lena do not live happily ever after, even though the main barrier to their happiness has been eliminated. In another one of their gossip sessions, Elijah asserts that Joe has returned as a ghost to haunt Spunk. The incident had occurred just as Spunk and Lena were preparing for bed. Elijah says that a big, black bobcat had walked around the house howling. When Spunk grabbed his gun, the bobcat stood still, looking at him and howling. Spunk realizes that it is not a bobcat, but Joe.

The townsmen believe in the story about the ghost without question. It causes them to reflect on the relative bravery of the two men. Walter concludes that Joe was the braver, because even though he was frightened of Spunk and knew he had a gun, he still pursued him. Spunk, on the other hand, a natural-born fighter, was scared of nothing. In Walter and Elijah’s estimation, it was nothing for Spunk to fight when he was never scared.

A few days later, the ghost appears for the second time. Once again, the story is told from the townsmen’s perspective. The men were at work in the sawmill when Spunk inexplicably slipped and fell into the circle saw. As he was dying, the men reached him and heard his last words: “It was Joe, ’Lige . . . the dirty sneak shoved me.” Elijah concludes: “If spirits kin fight, there’s a powerful tussle goin’ on somewhere ovah Jordan ’cause Ah b’leeve Joe’s ready for Spunk an’ ain’t skeered any more.”

At Spunk’s wake, all the townspeople have gathered to pay their respects to Lena, who is lamenting her loss. Even Joe’s father has come. Significantly, old Jeff Kanty, “who a few hours before would have been afraid to come within ten feet of him, stood leering triumphantly down on the fallen giant as if his fingers had been the teeth of steel that laid him low.” As they are eating at the wake, the other mourners speculate on who will be Lena’s next lover.

Summary

(Short Stories for Students)

Although there is a third person narrator who tells the story, the actions of the main characters in ‘‘Spunk’’ are interpreted mostly by the men who stand around commenting on what they see as they lounge about their village’s one store. The narrator is detached, uninvolved in the action, but the men who speak have opinions about everything. As the story opens, a man and a woman walk arm-in-arm down the street of the village and into the brush. As the men watch the couple walk away,...

(The entire section is 1,315 words.)