English / Guilt In &Quot;Spunk&Quot; By Zora Neale Hurston
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Autor: anton 16 December 2010
Words: 1197 | Pages: 5
The role of guilt in â€œSpunkâ€ by Zora Neale Hurston
In â€œSpunkâ€ by Zora Neale Hurston, the main character Joe Kanty's death is the tool used to shape the characters in her story. Following Joeâ€™s murder, the characters experience different forms of guilt, representing Hurstonâ€™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 â€œSpunkâ€.
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 dayâ€™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?â€ Elijah said knowing full well that his wife had just passed through with Spunk.
After Joeâ€™s murder the following things were said; "At the general store later on, they all talked of locking him (Spunk) up...â€; â€œKnow what ah think? Joe wuz a braver man than Spunk.â€; and â€œHe (Spunk) oughter be nervous after what he done.â€
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 Joeâ€™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 careful what she wished for. Her decision to be with Spunk had resulted in the loss of a husband and eventually a boyfriend. Now she was all alone and everyone was talking about her. Of course, Lenaâ€™s character could have been limited to the role of a betrayal laden wife and a mean person much like the people at the bar. However, when you see her remorse after her decisions caused so much drama, you realize that her character was made round by the application of the guilty conscience theme. Once again Hurston gives her character a guilty conscience to expand on the readerâ€™s perception of that character. The cheating wife, and the cowardly bullies had been brought down by Hurstonâ€™s use of guilt, but could it happen to the murderer?
Even the unshakable character of Spunk falls victim to a guilty conscience. Spunk's conscience however, had a wild way of showing itself. Shortly after the murder, Spunk claimed to see a black bobcat, black as night they said. This wasn't an ordinary bobcat Spunk claimed. When he drew his gun to shoot the animal it just glared back at him and scared him to the point he went back in the house, doing nothing to the bobcat. Some would say simply his superstition, but the fact that no other person, including Lena, saw this bobcat proves that it may have been an illusion his guilty mind had created. When this story was being told at the bar, Hurston used a bit of a sarcastic or unbelieving tone for the orator, further making the reader believe it was all in Spunk's head. The following night at the bar the same people were talking about how Spunk had gotten into some trouble with the saw he so fearlessly worked with each day, in fact he was killed by it. He claimed that Joeâ€™s ghost had pushed him into the saw as he lie on the ground dying after being sawed in half. Once again the guiltiness had broken through. Why would a man like him claim to be killed by something like a ghost? It goes against the entire image Hurston had built up for him throughout the story. He was a strong man that feared nothing, and could do what he wanted without consequences. Why would he blame a ghost over something more believable? It was because Hurston wanted to express the guilt Spunk had inside, and what better way to do that then to let his character die thinking about the man he had done wrong.
As you can see Ms. Hurston believed that every person no matter how mean or cold-hearted they seem, has a conscience. Not only did she make this theme ubiquitous in â€œSpunkâ€, but she used it to give the reader a familiarity with the characters and provide insight to their minds without actually writing what was on their minds. I really enjoyed finding the theme of â€œSpunkâ€ and seeing how Hurston utilized it for other purposes.
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