Spunk

by

Zora Neale Hurston

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The Circle Saw Symbol Analysis

The Circle Saw Symbol Icon

On one level, the circle saw—a piece of equipment at the sawmill where the men in the village work—represents the disposable nature of black lives in the South, as poor men in communities like Eatonville are subject to perilous and precarious physical labor. It is clear that death has been normalized for the men who work at the sawmill because Elijah provides a graphic yet flippant account of Tes’ Miller, who died when “cut to giblets” on the circle saw. In contrast to Tes’ Miller, who is presented as a victim of the circle saw, Elijah positions Spunk Banks as a master of the dangerous machinery. Spunk is fearless at work and is able to work the circle saw when the other men are too “skeered to go near it.” The circle saw, then, also symbolizes strength, power and masculinity because Spunk gains his reputation in the community precisely because of his affinity with the saw. Further, at the very end of the story, Joe’s father, Jeff Kanty, stands over Spunk’s dead body, imagining that “his fingers had been the teeth of steel that laid him low.” Here, Jeff conflates the saw with victory and dominance, enjoying the prospect of yielding as much power as the circle saw, and conquering his enemy. In “Spunk,” the circle saw is evidence of the limitations placed upon black men in poor, rural communities; with few opportunities to explore other lines of work, the men must work at the sawmill, where they are required to be fearless, physically assertive, and unfeeling to the death surrounding them. Hurston reveals how this environment creates callous and controlling men like Spunk Banks, who treat women possessively and challenge male rivals aggressively.

The Circle Saw Quotes in Spunk

The Spunk quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Circle Saw. 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

“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:

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:

“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:
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The Circle Saw Symbol Timeline in Spunk

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Circle Saw 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
...so confident and self-assured. Elijah emphasizes Spunk’s strength and courage by sharing an anecdote from the saw mill, where they both work.  Elijah explains how, just moments after ‘Tes Miller’s tragic death... (full context)
Power and Masculinity Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
...explains that he witnessed Spunk getting anxious when he was working on the machinery at the saw mill earlier that day. When Spunk blamed his “wobblin’” on the equipment, the machinist declared... (full context)
Legal Justice vs. Moral Justice Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
...walk slowly towards Lena’s house for the funeral wake. Elijah explains how Spunk fell onto the circle saw at work, and how in his last moments, Spunk accused Joe of pushing him onto... (full context)
Power and Masculinity Theme Icon
Women and Misogyny Theme Icon
Legal Justice vs. Moral Justice Theme Icon
...wake, Lena grieves passionately. 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... (full context)