Spunk

by

Zora Neale Hurston

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Spunk can help.

Spunk Banks Character Analysis

As the eponymous character, Spunk could be understood as the story’s protagonist. However, through his conflict with Joe Kanty, it becomes apparent that Spunk is more suited to the role of antihero or antagonist. The story opens with Spunk walking boldly past a crowd of villagers, arm in arm with Lena Kanty, Joe’s wife. As his name might suggest, Spunk embodies an expression of ideal masculinity; he is strong, daring, and unapologetically bold when “sauntering” past the general store—what appears to be the town’s major hangout—with another man’s wife. It is through these qualities that Spunk gains the respect and horror-fascination of the men in the village, who seem to envy, fear, and admire Spunk. When Joe follows Spunk and Lena into the woods to confront them about their affair, armed only with a razor, Spunk shoots his opponent dead, later declaring that the murder was simply an act of “self-defense.” At first, Spunk is remarkably cavalier about the murder, claiming that he “didn’t wanna shoot” Joe, but that “he made me do it,” and ordering the villagers to remove Joe’s body “in a careless voice.” Later on, however, Spunk becomes unnerved when confronted with a “black bob-cat,” who he believes is Joe’s spirit, come back to haunt and punish him for his wrongs. Eventually, Spunk’s unfaltering pursuit of power and dominance leads to his own untimely demise when he falls upon the circle saw at the sawmill where he works. Convinced that Joe’s spirit has pushed him, Spunk dies without dignity, angrily “cussin’” and shouting as the life drains out of him. The funeral wake is symbolic of Spunk’s downfall, where his body lies under a “dingy sheet” while the men make “course conjectures” about Lena.

Spunk Banks Quotes in Spunk

The Spunk quotes below are all either spoken by Spunk Banks or refer to Spunk Banks. 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 giant of a brown skinned man sauntered up the one street of the Village and out into the palmetto thickets with a small pretty woman clinging lovingly to his arm.

Related Characters: Spunk Banks, Lena Kanty
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

“He rides that log down at saw-mill jus' like he struts round wid another man's wife—jus' don't give a kitty.”

Related Characters: Elijah Mosley (speaker), Spunk Banks
Related Symbols: The Circle Saw
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:

Everyone in the Village was there, even old Jeff Kanty, Joe's father, who […] stood leering triumphantly down upon the fallen giant as if his fingers had been the teeth of steel that laid him low.

Related Characters: Spunk Banks, Jeff Kanty
Related Symbols: The Circle Saw
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Spunk LitChart as a printable PDF.
Spunk PDF

Spunk Banks Character Timeline in Spunk

The timeline below shows where the character Spunk Banks 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
The men in the general store watch with interest as Spunk Banks, “a giant of a brown skinned man,” struts through the only street in the... (full context)
Power and Masculinity Theme Icon
Legal Justice vs. Moral Justice Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
...is nervous and embarrassed because he knows that the village men have seen Lena and Spunk together, and “he knew that the men knew he knew.” (full context)
Power and Masculinity Theme Icon
Women and Misogyny Theme Icon
...back. As he speaks, Joe pulls a “hollow ground razor” from his pocket, declaring that “Spunk’s done gone too fur.” (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 other men have sent Joe to... (full context)
Power and Masculinity Theme Icon
Legal Justice vs. Moral Justice Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
...ignores Walter’s warning, assuring the men that Joe is calling their “bluff.” He thinks that Spunk would never actually shoot Joe, nor would Joe be stupid enough to confront Spunk “knowing... (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 only “carries on wid Lena” because... (full context)
Power and Masculinity Theme Icon
Women and Misogyny Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
...by her husband when he begged for her to come back to him, and how Spunk authoritatively took Lena by the arm, declaring “youse mine.” Lena emphasized that she didn’t want... (full context)
Power and Masculinity Theme Icon
Legal Justice vs. Moral Justice Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
...hear “the sharp report of a pistol” ringing out from the woods, and soon after, Spunk nonchalantly enters the general store and explains his version of events to the men. (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... (full context)
Legal Justice vs. Moral Justice Theme Icon
A sheriff from Orlando later arrests Spunk, but after a short trial, Spunk walks free. Some time later, Walter and Elijah discuss... (full context)
Power and Masculinity Theme Icon
Legal Justice vs. Moral Justice Theme Icon
According to Elijah, on Spunk’s first night in the house with Lena, he was startled when a massive black 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... (full context)
Power and Masculinity Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
The men protest at this assessment, but then one of them explains that he witnessed Spunk getting anxious when he was working on the machinery at the sawmill earlier that day.... (full context)
Legal Justice vs. Moral Justice Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
The following day, the men discuss Spunk once more, but there is “no laughter. No badinage this time.” Elijah and Walter somberly... (full context)
Power and Masculinity Theme Icon
Women and Misogyny Theme Icon
Legal Justice vs. Moral Justice Theme Icon
...When Jeff Kanty arrives, he takes pleasure in imagining himself as the saw that caused Spunk’s death. Although he used to be terrified of Spunk, Jeff now looms down over Spunk’s... (full context)