Spunk by Zora Neale Hurston: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:02 'Spunk' Plot Overview
  • 0:55 Joe Confronts Spunk
  • 2:02 Strange Occurences
  • 3:06 Analysis of Literary Elements
  • 3:55 Major Themes
  • 5:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Washington

Danielle is a certified English Language Arts educator with 8 years of classroom experience, and has an education specialist degree in curriculum and instruction.

''Spunk,'' a short story by Zora Neale Hurston, is a juicy tale about a love triangle that goes terribly wrong. In this lesson, we will learn more about the characters and the plot and analyze the story's major elements.

Spunk Plot Overview

Zora Neale Hurston's short story opens by giving us a physical description of Spunk, the story's main character. He is described as a 'giant of a brown-skinned man.' As the story begins, Spunk is walking down the street with a beautiful woman on his arm. Sounds pretty romantic, right? The only problem is that the woman on his arm happens to be someone else's wife!

This is a pretty bold move, but Spunk isn't the kind of guy who is afraid of anyone or anything. We learn this from the dialogue between the men in the town, who happen to be gathered at the general store as Spunk passes by with his married companion, Lena.

The men describe Spunk as being a fearless man who takes whatever he wants from whomever he wants. One of his coworkers describes how Spunk bravely took over and operated a circle-saw at the sawmill right after another worker was killed by the saw.

Joe Confronts Spunk

In the midst of their conversation, Lena's husband Joe enters the store. Joe is the exact opposite of Spunk: a cowardly, anxious man who does not stand up for himself. Even though Joe is fully aware that his wife is having an affair with Spunk, he is too afraid to confront either of them. The men in the store know this as well, and they decide to toy with Joe.

One man in particular, Elijah, makes it a point to tell Joe that Lena has just passed the store with Spunk. Joe reveals that he has a plan to get Lena back, and pulls a razor blade out of his pocket. Elijah eggs him on, encouraging him to defend his family. Joe leaves the store in search of Spunk and Lena.

The men continue to gossip about Spunk, Lena, and Joe when they suddenly hear a gunshot in the distance. Soon after, Spunk casually comes in with a frightened Lena by his side and explains that he had to kill Joe. He tells the men how Joe tried to attack him from behind with the razor. All the men give Elijah an accusatory stare, because they know that his words were what encouraged Joe to attack.

Strange Occurences

Spunk eventually goes to trial and is let off on self-defense. He returns to his normal life, and to his lover, Lena. The two move in together, and plan to marry. Strange things begin to happen, though. Spunk sees a black bobcat circling his house and howling one night. When he gets his gun to shoot the bobcat, it stands up and stares him right in the eye. Frightened, Spunk cannot shoot the animal, and is convinced that it is Joe coming back from hell to stop the wedding.

Things get stranger when Spunk has a freak accident at the sawmill. He is usually an expert at operating the machinery. Since his encounter with the bobcat, however, he has been filled with fear, and trembles while operating the machinery. One day Spunk falls on his saw, and is fatally cut. He claims he felt a push on his back, and through his last dying breaths, he swears that Joe was the one who pushed him.

The story ends with the people of the town gathered for Spunk's funeral. As Lena grieves, they all secretly wonder who her next man will be.

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