Spunk

by

Zora Neale Hurston

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Joe Kanty Character Analysis

The protagonist of the story, Joe Kanty is nervous, awkward and physically inferior to Spunk Banks, his rival. Joe is publically shamed and humiliated when a group of village folk witness Spunk arm in arm with Lena Kanty, Joe’s wife. The men in the general store, who admire and revere Spunk, continually accuse Joe of weakness. His masculinity is called into question because of his inability to both control his wife and to challenge Spunk. Angered and spurred on by the men’s taunting, Joe follows Spunk and Lena into the woods, armed with nothing but a razor, despite knowing that Spunk carries a gun with him. The altercation that follows leads to Joe’s murder, leaving Spunk free to marry Lena (although Spunk is arrested for the murder, the trial is short, and he is quickly set free). However, the night that Spunk and Lena move in together, Spunk encounters a mysterious bobcat prowling around his property and howling at the top of its lungs, which Spunk believes is the reincarnated spirit of Joe. It remains ambiguous whether the bobcat is actually Joe or just a superstitious figment of Spunk’s imagination. Likewise, when Spunk falls on a saw at the sawmill, he claims with dying breath that it was Joe who pushed him to his death. Once again, it’s unclear if this is actually true, but it seems that Joe’s masculinity is finally redeemed through Spunk’s downfall. Walter Thomas’s posthumous endorsement of Joe says as much, asserting that “Joe wuz a braver man than Spunk” the whole time. After all, Joe was genuinely terrified of Spunk and toted a lousy weapon, and yet he still mustered the courage to stick up to Spunk and fight.

Joe Kanty Quotes in Spunk

The Spunk quotes below are all either spoken by Joe Kanty or refer to Joe Kanty. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Power and Masculinity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the HarperCollins edition of Spunk published in 1996.
Spunk Quotes

A round-shouldered figure in overalls much too large, came nervously in the door and the talking ceased. The men looked at each other and winked.

Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

“’Tain’t cause Joe’s timid at all […] If Joe was a passel of wile cats Spunk would tackle the job just the same.”

Related Characters: Elijah Mosley (speaker), Spunk Banks, Joe Kanty, Walter Thomas
Related Symbols: The Bobcat
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

“Call her and see if she'll come. A woman knows her boss an' she answers when he calls.”

Related Characters: Elijah Mosley (speaker), Spunk Banks, Joe Kanty, Lena Kanty
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

He could work again, ride the dangerous log-carriage that fed the singing, snarling, biting, circle-saw.

Related Characters: Spunk Banks, Joe Kanty
Related Symbols: The Bobcat, The Circle Saw
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

“…a big black bob-cat, black all over, you hear me, black, walked round and round that house and howled like forty, an' when Spunk got his gun […] he says it stood right still an' looked him in the eye, […] He says it was Joe done sneaked back from Hell!”

Related Characters: Elijah Mosley (speaker), Spunk Banks, Joe Kanty
Related Symbols: The Bobcat
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

“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 […] Joe wuz a braver man than Spunk.”

Related Characters: Walter Thomas (speaker), Spunk Banks, Joe Kanty
Related Symbols: The Bobcat
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

“The fust thing he said wuz, ‘He pushed me, 'Lige—the dirty hound pushed me in the back!”—He was spittin' blood at ev'ry breath.”

Related Characters: Elijah Mosley (speaker), Spunk Banks, Joe Kanty
Related Symbols: The Circle Saw
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Spunk LitChart as a printable PDF.
Spunk PDF

Joe Kanty Character Timeline in Spunk

The timeline below shows where the character Joe Kanty appears in Spunk. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Spunk
Power and Masculinity Theme Icon
Legal Justice vs. Moral Justice Theme Icon
...of a brown skinned man,” struts through the only street in the village with Lena, Joe Kanty’s wife, on his arm. Spunk’s bold parade elicits admiration from Elijah, who praises Spunk... (full context)
Power and Masculinity Theme Icon
Legal Justice vs. Moral Justice Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
Moments later, Lena’s husband, Joe, arrives and orders a drink. Elijah immediately begins taunting Joe by asking after Lena. Walter... (full context)
Power and Masculinity Theme Icon
Women and Misogyny Theme Icon
Joe is visibly upset and humiliated by Elijah’s cruel teasing—“One could actually see the pain he... (full context)
Power and Masculinity Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
The men laugh “boisterously” as they watch Joe “shamble woodward” in search of Spunk and Lena. Walter warns Elijah that he and the... (full context)
Power and Masculinity Theme Icon
Legal Justice vs. Moral Justice Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
Elijah ignores Walter’s warning, assuring the men that Joe is calling their “bluff.” He thinks that Spunk would never actually shoot Joe, nor would... (full context)
Power and Masculinity Theme Icon
Legal Justice vs. Moral Justice Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
Elijah then tells a story about how Joe had meekly confronted Lena and Spunk the week before. Elijah denounces Walter’s accusation that Spunk... (full context)
Power and Masculinity Theme Icon
Women and Misogyny Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
...but when youse inside don’t forgit youse mine.” When Lena and Spunk walked off together, Joe “jus’ stood there,” powerless to stop them. (full context)
Power and Masculinity Theme Icon
Legal Justice vs. Moral Justice Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
The narrator interjects that “Joe Kanty never came back.” The men in the general store hear “the sharp report of... (full context)
Power and Masculinity Theme Icon
Legal Justice vs. Moral Justice Theme Icon
While Lena cries, Spunk claims that Joe cowardly tried to attack him from behind, so Spunk was merely acting in self-defense by... (full context)
Power and Masculinity Theme Icon
Legal Justice vs. Moral Justice Theme Icon
...from the window, it looked him directly in the eye. Convinced that the creature was Joe, “sneaked back from Hell,” Spunk found himself unable to shoot the bobcat. (full context)
Power and Masculinity Theme Icon
Legal Justice vs. Moral Justice Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
Unsympathetic, Walter declares that Spunk “oughter be nervous after what he done,” and argues that Joe was more courageous than Spunk all along. After all, Joe was terrified and was armed... (full context)
Legal Justice vs. Moral Justice Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
...fell onto the circle saw at work, and how in his last moments, Spunk accused Joe of pushing him onto the deadly machinery. Walter speculates that Joe and Spunk’s spirits must... (full context)