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Guilt In "Spunk" By Zora Neale Hurston

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Autor:   •  December 16, 2010  •  1,197 Words (5 Pages)  •  947 Views

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The role of guilt in "Spunk" by Zora Neale Hurston

In "Spunk" by Zora Neale Hurston, the main character Joe Kanty's death is the tool used to shape the characters in her story. Following Joe's murder, the characters experience different forms of guilt, representing Hurston's belief that everyone in our world has a conscience. As the characters develop a guilty conscience, they realize just that. Bullies, cheaters, and murderers are all susceptible to the feelings of a guilty conscience as illustrated in "Spunk".

The first of the aforementioned group is coincidentally also the first to experience guilt. They are the bar frequenting townspeople who seemingly do nothing but hang out at the bar and gossip. However, their role is quickly defined as a few of them chastise Joe about Spunk being with his wife. The razzing continues as Joe sits nervously taking the verbal abuse until they drive him to confront Spunk. He is killed by Spunk almost immediately and then the character development begins to show. The following day's banter amongst the townspeople is solely concerned with Spunk and how Joe was the real man for standing up to Spunk. Consider these two quotes:

"Say, Joe, how's everything up yo way? How's yo' wife?" Elijah said knowing full well that his wife had just passed through with Spunk.

After Joe's murder the following things were said; "At the general store later on, they all talked of locking him (Spunk) up..."; "Know what ah think? Joe wuz a braver man than Spunk."; and "He (Spunk) oughter be nervous after what he done."

Hurston could have left out the bar inhabitants feelings of remorse and pride for Joe and the story would have flowed just as well as it did by including these statements. However, because she included these statements of guilt and pride for a man they had badgered and teased no less than 24 hours previous, it was clear that Hurston is trying to make a point. That point is that these people who had been so cold and heartless to a poor man suffering through the loss of his wife and constant avoidance of his former friends are suddenly feeling the guilty conscience that every person can get. This illustration of guilt makes these characters round and creates a better idea for the meaning of the story. If you consider each person at the bar separately, (Elijah, Walter, etc.) this theme would more than likely fall through. However, that is exactly why Hurston avoided including too much detail about the characters at the bar. They were meant to be considered as one entity keeping her theme intact. The next character to feel this guilt is a person much closer to Joe, and certainly someone who should feel guilty for the way Joe's life ended.

Lena Kanty had been the wife of Joe Kanty for many years until Spunk Banks came around. However, when Spunk showed up he wanted her, and it was clearly articulated that he always got what he wanted. Joe and Lena's situation was a little strange when Spunk was around. Lena went around with Spunk whenever she wanted and went back to Joe whenever she wanted. On the other hand if Joe wanted to be with Lena it was not quite that simple. All of this confusion came to a head one day when Joe confronted Spunk and Lena and dialogue as told by a man at the bar transpired:

"Call her and see if she'll come. A woman knows her boss an' she answers when he calls", said Spunk. "Lena, ain't I yo' husband?", whined Joe.

Lena didn't move from her tracks and gave Joe a disgusted look. Spunk then took her arm and they went on their way.

After proudly shooting Joe down, Lena and her new man went about their business until the fateful day of Joe's murder. Following his murder, Lena feelings for Spunk did a one-eighty as she "waited in fear for his return". Obviously what she had so clearly shown she wanted to have had backfired. She no longer wanted Spunk; in fact she lived in fear of him. Obviously Lena should have been

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