A Careless and Immodest Deed

By Kadian Brownsawmill

Why are there envious and ignorant people in the world? Some are jealous of your house, your car, your children, your cat, and even your spouse. These people can be easily noticed or heard. They are showy and shameless. Their minds are so corrupted that if you even try to fight for your own, they will harm you. This is similar to the story in Hurston’s narration. The fiction named “Spunk” entails three major aspects of literature including: theme, symbolism and irony.

“Spunk,” which is written by Zora Neale Hurston, is about a woman by the name of Lena that has two men fighting over her, and a community of people watching and gossiping as the details unfold. Joe, who is the husband of Lena, has had his masculinity belittled and is then killed by Spunk—the new found interest of Lena. After killing Joe, Spunk who was seen as a brave and feared man of the community becomes a cowardly and frightened man.

There are a few symbolic images that seem to convey a strong meaning in “Spunk.” The first symbol in the story is the saw. This saw is seen as a challenge for every man in the community because it was talked about from the beginning to the end of the story. For example, in the second paragraph when Walter says “Spunk steps right up and starts ridin. The rest of us skeered to go near it” (405), this suggests that it was seen or thought of as something great and monumental and anyone who is able to manage it or control it would be feared.

Additionally, the saw may also be seen as a reflection of Spunk by how it takes what it wants and eventually overpowers others. For instance, when Walter says “Tes Miller got cut to giblets on the circle-saw” and then when Elijah explains Spunk’s death that “the saw got him in the body,” are moments that show how this saw had no mercy on anyone. These actions are therefore similar to Spunk’s behavior, for example, when Elijah says “taint even decent for a man to take and take like he do” (405). This seems to suggest that Spunk does not care about what anyone wants but himself.

The second image that became a symbol of the story is Joe’s razor. This razor signified to Joe as a possible overcoming and defeating mechanism in order to get back his wife that Spunk took. This is expressed when Joe says “Ah’m goin after her . . . Ah’m goin’ to fetch her back” (405). This weapon of choice was again seen in Joe’s lifeless body as writes Hurston, “Still clutching his razor” (406). This clutching of the razor even until death shows the only thing that he had control of and owned that would stay with him unlike his wife.

The razor died with Joe but resurrected itself through the power of the saw. The saw just like the razor is a sharp blade that if used intentionally or gets out of control can cause death. The razor seemed to have revived itself through the saw symbolizing the finished intention that did not get done when Joe was alive. For example, when Spunk says “See mah back? Mah close cut clear through” (406) shows the starting process but when Elijah explains “the saw got him in the back” (408) it was the conclusion of the goal.

And the third significant image which was talked about in almost all of section three of Hurston’s story was the black bob-cat. The narrator gives the bob-cat a personified appeal when Elijah said “it stood right still an’ looked him in the eye,” and goes on to say that “Spunk says it twaint no bob-cat . . . it was Joe sneaked back from hell” (407). This implies that the bob-cat is given a human-like quality, but one of a dead person coming back. It also embodies Joe’s anger for Spunk by how it “howled right at him” (407). Therefore, this would clarify how Spunk seemed to have believed it was Joe coming back for his revenge against him.

Another element of this story is the use of irony in regards to how the community perceive both Joe and Spunk. When Walter says that Spunk “Aint skeered of nothing on Gods green footstool—nothing” (405), this seems to imply that this man cannot be intimidated. Yet after Spunk saw that bob-cat looking at him, he became “So nervoused up he couldn’t shoot” (407). Therefore, Spunk’s nervousness is ironic because it was well known that he was not afraid of anything. A second irony is when Elijah said that “Joe aint got the nerve to go to Spunk,” but Joe did go to after Spunk with his razor and even managed to cut Spunk’s clothes with it. In each of these expectations about Spunk or Joe, the exact opposite happened.

There seemed to be a theme outlined in “Spunk” in regards to individuals who want all and lose all. In “Spunk,” the theory of life about what goes around comes back around seems to be shown in what Spunk gained after shamelessly taking another man’s wife and end-up dying before getting to be with her. For example, Spunk states in front of Joe that Lena is his woman (406). And then he went further as to killing Joe for Lena. And as a result of all his actions, he did not get to spend the rest his life with Lena and he died a terrible death just as was caused on Joe.

The story of Spunk is both riveting and engaging. It evokes a story similar to real life events that takes place in real people’s lives and relationships. There are indeed people in the world that are not satisfied with only what they have. They want more of what others have. But sometimes karma catches up on them and so their end may not be as they had expected because of arrogance. The story of Spunk shows how when a person is jealous of another to the point of death, it may cause loss of lives and the jealous person may be worse-off than when he/she started.

Works Cited
Hurston, Zora Neale. “Spunk.” Literature: Approaches To Fiction, Poetry, Drama. Ed. Robert Diyanni. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004.3.

Submitted for ENG 102 Literature and Composition, Spring 2015. Assignment: Interpretation.
Instructor: Kevin Lamkins, Associate Professor of English

Instructor comment: I find that the Interpretation Essay in this course is often the most difficult for my students. Kadian succeeds in this task because of her attention to detail, especially in her ability to take one aspect of the story, the saw, and build multiple meanings from it.  She also uses the saw to tie into another aspect of the story, the razor.  All the while, she’s developing a theme and connecting the characters to the symbolic elements of “Spunk.”

Photo credit: “Sawmill” by Daryl Marquardt. Licensed through Creative Commons.

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