Mystery, Tension, and the Supernatural in Zora Neale Hurston's Spunk

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SWBAT evaluate how Hurston manipulates the text to create tension and mystery by analyzing literary elements in Spunk.

Big Idea

Extra Extra--Student reporters dig deep into the deaths of Joe Kanty and Spunk Banks. Is it murder or is the supernatural at play?

Unit Introduction

Year after year, the students struggle with literary elements.  So, I created this mini unit from parts of other units to focus on literary elements before we begin Othello.  The Othello pre-reading material also challenges the students to look closely at language, question character/narrator reliability, examine the complexities of a protagonist.  

I call the unit, "Sins, Poems, Virtues, and Short Stories" because I use the polar opposite concepts of the deadly sins and the virtues to help students connect these stories to their lives and provide a foundation of language they can use to discuss the stories. 

I hint at the sins and virtues in Spunk.  The class truly examines the sins and virtues when we begin "This is Just to Say".

Let's Get Started: Meet Zora Neale Hurston

10 minutes

As the students arrive I give them a number and tell them to sit at the table with the corresponding number.  I want to create 12 groups of two or three.  Once everyone is seated, I ask them what they thought of the short story Spunk by Zora Neale Hurston.  After a few share their thoughts, I tell them that we are going to watch a short video on the life of Zora Neale Hurston.  I know most of the students have never been to the southern part of the United States and they are definitely not used to reading dialogue that is written to create a certain regional accent.  I hope that by showing them a brief biography of Hurston, they will make connections between her life and the characters in Spunk.  

They have to answer on question from the video in their notes:  What does it mean to jump at the sun?

Next I take a few volunteers to answer the question and give an example about how Hurston had to jump at the sun.

Building Knowledge: Extra Extra Read All About It

30 minutes

Now I tell the students that they are reporters for the Eatonville Chronicle.  I tell them their job is to dig deep into the deaths of Joe Kanty and Spunk Banks. I pass out the copy of the blank Eatonville Chronicle to each group.  The first thing I need to do is to make sure they understand the basic plot of the story.  If they are confused about what happens in the story a discourse on literary devices will not go well.  The goal is to define and explain the literary elements in Spunk, so we begin with a story overview.  Each group has to answer the question that matches their group number.  They have to use evidence from the text to support their answers. 

1.Who is Spunk Banks?
2.Who is Lena?
3.Who is Joe Kanty?
4.Why is Lena cheating on Joe?
5.Why  does Joe want to fight Spunk (two reasons)?
6.What happens at the fight?
7.Does Spunk fight fair?
8.Why does Spunk what to marry Lena?
9.Who is the black bob-cat?
10.Why does the people’s opinion of Joe change after he died?
11.Why did Spunk die?
12.Now that Spunk is dead, what’s Lena going to do?

I circulate the room providing help when necessary.  Once the groups write their responses in the first box under the headline: "Eatonville Locals Gossip about Untimely Deaths," I ask each group read their answer to the class. The tenth question is  Why does the people's opinion of Joe change after he died?  This question requires the students to make an inference.  This question and the question about Lena's life after the death of Spunk are the only questions that do not have a direct answer in the text, thus they must make inferences based on textual evidence to answer (RL.9-10.1). 

After students have shared their responses to the questions, I ask them if they have any questions about the plot.  Now we are ready to move on to literary elements.


Building Knowledge: Literary Elements in Spunk

40 minutes

Moving into literary elements requires some review and expansion on what they already know and apply it to a specific text.  The students have to determine the precise purpose of figurative language and how the figurative language shapes the text (CCSS.RL.9-10.4).

There are three initial groups of questions on literary elements:

1. Who is the narrator? How reliable is the narrator?  Explain your answer. What impact does the reliability of the narrator have on the story?

2.  What is tone?  How does Hurston use language to establish the tone?  Create tension?  

3.  Foreshadowing: How is Spunk’s death foreshadowed? Why does Huston foreshadow his death?

I divide the questions among the groups.  Four groups will answer each question.  There is more than one example of each literary element.  I hope that the groups give different examples. 

I circulate the room to provide guidance when necessary.  The groups who seem to have the most difficulty have to answer the question who is the narrator.

Once the students have finished the article under the headline: Elements that Impact the Story. I ask each group to share their write up with the class.  So, the  final report on the narrator shows how the students have to discuss and then write a cohesive and supported short answer to the question. They are more confident on how is Spunk's death foreshadowed.  

Next the class tackles characters.  They have to list the major and minor characters, I put the list on the board.  The next question asks them to make a connection between Zora Neale Hurston and the characters.  They have to fill choose the character they can prove "is jumping at the sun!"   After they complete the paragraph, they share their responses with the class.  

Finally, the class moves on to conflict.  We define internal and external conflict.  They have to identify both and internal and external conflict and write their article for the newspaper.  




Closing: Evidence of the Supernatural

10 minutes

Finally, the students have to identify evidence of the supernatural to finish their newspaper.  The supernatural threads the text.  After killing Joe, Spunk sees a black panther and believes it is Joe seeking revenge.   

Each group shares their example of the supernatural.  I give them the remainder of the class to review their newspaper to make sure it is complete.  

Once the paper is complete, they turn it in.