The role of guilt in "Spunk" by Zora Neale Hurston
In "Spunk" by Zora Neale Hurston, the main character Joe Kanty's death is the tool used to shape the characters in her story. Following Joe's murder, the characters experience different forms of guilt, representing Hurston's belief that everyone in our world has a conscience. As the characters develop a guilty conscience, they realize just that. Bullies, cheaters, and murderers are all susceptible to the feelings of a guilty conscience as illustrated in "Spunk". The first of the aforementioned group is coincidentally also the first to experience guilt. They are the bar frequenting townspeople who seemingly do nothing but hang out at the bar and gossip. However, their role is quickly defined as a few of them chastise Joe about Spunk being with his wife. The razzing continues as Joe sits nervously taking the verbal abuse until they drive him to confront Spunk. He is killed by Spunk almost immediately and then the character development begins to show. The following day's banter amongst the townspeople is solely concerned with Spunk and how Joe was the real man for standing up to Spunk. Consider these two quotes:
"Say, Joe, how's everything up yo way? How's yo' wife?" Elijah said knowing full well that his wife had just passed through with Spunk.
After Joe's murder the following things were said; "At the general store later on, they all talked of locking him (Spunk) up..."; "Know what ah think? Joe wuz a braver man than Spunk."; and "He (Spunk) oughter be nervous after what he done."
Hurston could have left out the bar inhabitants feelings of remorse and pride for Joe and the story would have flowed just as well as it did by including these statements. However, because she included these statements of guilt and pride for a man they had badgered and teased no less than 24 hours previous, it was clear that Hurston is trying to make a point. That point is that these people who had been so cold and...
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