.. glish 2210 Richardson 12-04-96 Honor Thyself Honor is something that is earned, but it must also be defended in order to be upheld in the eyes of all. In Thorstein The Staff-Struck ones respect is based on their honor alone. Honor is the essence of a life worth living. In this story, a life without honor means that the life is worthless.
Death is better than having no honor. Men will easily give their lives without second thought to earn, and protect it. Honors role in Thorstein the Staff-Struck takes on several roles, but all of them are to achieve one common goal. The various roles take on the common goal of achieving honor itself. Thorsteins nick-name the Staff-Struck is a strain on his honor because his masculinity is being questioned after his first bout with Thord. Thorsteins first reaction to the blow to his head by Thords staff is not thought of as being honorable. He didnt respond in a way that would defend his honor.
He needed to stand up for himself to accomplish that trying task. His response to Thords blow was thought of as a cowards response. That meant his honor had been shamed by his own action, or lack of the correct actions. After that, Thorsteins integrity was belittled in the eyes of others. Ones honor Page 2 lies not only in the eyes of ones self, but also in the words, and eyes of all present, and around. Thorstein had to avenge his honor in the eyes of the spectators for himself.
Thorsteins father prompted his vengeance though. Thorstein could not simply sit back, and be humiliated by his own father. That was just too much for him to deal with, nor did he want to try. He knew he must honor his father by bringing, and restoring honor to himself. His response, although late, was honorable.
Timing is a crucial part of vengeance in this story though. Bijarni, the ruler of Hof, had a different role in society, but his honor was still of great importance. Bijarnis honor was questioned by his servants, his wife, and others because they felt his reverence had been stained by Thorstein. His lack of action against Thorstein made him weak in the eyes of others. He had been challenged, but he had not yet accepted the challenge.
When honor is seen as challenged there must be action taken or soundness will be questioned. Thorhall and Thorvald questioned Bijarnis honor in gossip, and in rumor. Bijarni then instructed the two to leave, and return with Thorsteins head, as he can not stand by while his servants continue to question his credibility and valance to stand up for his departed entourage. That would be dishonorable to himself. When honor is questioned it shows doubt, and damages its credibility, therefore it is not respected by others. When honor is not respected, ones image can be severely damaged, or tarnished.
When Bijarni the killers own wife insults his honor he must continue the ongoing struggle in protecting his trustworthiness, and defend himself once again by proving himself to her to. This honor system is an ongoing saga of life itself in the time of Thorstein The Staff-Struck. He must first put her in her place for such reasons as her behavior and actions resembling in his eyes, that of a typical women. His role as master must be Page 3 made clear to her, as well as his honor made clear to Thorstein before he can even begin to rest assured that his position as Bijarni he killer stands true and strong . Bijarni thinks and acts in a manner that reflects upon the relationship between a mans masculinity and his honor.
In the era in which the tale originates, masculinity and honor are somewhat integrated. This relationship between the two also proves itself true in Thorsteins dealings with Bijarnis men, and eventually Bijarni himself. A great deal of a mans ability to uphold, and gain honor relies on the amount of masculinity that he is capable of displaying, and using in his own favor. The timing of this display is also crucial because when its not being displayed it can easily be questioned as to whether or not it even exists. The display is crucial because it must be made clear to the eyes in a society were action takes all precedence over everything else. This is a time of actions. Actions tend to speak louder than words in this type of an honor system.
Actions must either be seen by the eyes, and heard by the ears. This honor system is one in which people have different ranks , but the importance of honor never lessens as the ranks ascend or descend. Bijarni has a higher standing than Thorstein, but honor holds the most prominence out of each of their virtues. This means that the importance is equal to both men. Sometimes a mans honor relies on the actions, and honor of others. Thorsteins father depends on him a great deal.
Thoranins honor is on a delicate balance that levies as his sons actions determine how it balances out. In being this way, when Thorstein honors himself, he in turn brings honor and respect to his family which in this case means his blind father Thoranin. Page 4 Encouragement and discouragement fuel and ignite the masculine sides of Thorstein, and Bijarni. Without people to respect their honor they would have need for such display of masculinity. The honor that they are striving to build, and keep the integrity of, is what men in this tale live for.
Thoranin points out that he would rather his son be dead than for him to be a coward. This only stresses the significance of what life in this tale is about. Thoranin had is own honor from being a feirce Viking, but since he was blind he was forced to rely on his son Thorsteins honor alone. This family honor was not special in this case though. Even if Thoranin hadnt been old, or blind he would have had to rely on Thorstein to protect, and uphold his honor. During this time, blood ties men, and their honor together.
Men are able to bring honor to their family by bringing it to their self. Bijarnis servants Thorhall, and Thorvald attempt to bring honor to him by returning Thorsteins severed head to him. This shows that men can be honored by the actions of other men. When Thorstein killed Thord he brought back honor to himself, and in turn to his father. This process can be put on hold for awhile, but it can cause more problems if it goes unattended for too long.
The death of Thorhall and Thorvall came because Bijarni was late to avenge his honor. This waiting eventually proves to make men wiser though. Honors role changes so much as this tale progresses. The masculinity of honor integrates itself with the intellect it takes to be wise. This maturation of honor is something that takes everything to a completely new level. The mental side of honor is emphasized by references to age making men grow wiser, and more respected for it.
The decisions they make affect their action, therefore the more knowledgeable decisions theyre able to make, the better off they are. Page 5 Knowledge allowed Thorstein, and Bijarni to uphold their names without having to kill each other. The wanting to settle things without bloodshed was a sign of respect for one another. That had to be recognized before they could negotiate a deal in favor of each other. They realized that Bijarnis losses somehow needed to be compensated in full. Thorstein looks at Bijarnis losses as purchases made by himself, and Bijarni accepts that perspective.
Thorsteins work is equal to that of three men, so he offers to take the place of Bijarnis three men that he killed. He chooses to go to work for Bijarni. instead of fighting. He knows that his decision would honor him, and his father the most. He makes sure that his father will be taken care of since he will not be able to care of him anymore. He can not let one of the people he is standing up for suffer, or his cause would be lost in his own righteousness.
Men must worry about their righteousness though. There are decisions in ones spiritual life that can affect their true level. Bijarni, in his old age becomes a Christian. His acceptance of a power above him exemplifies his mastering of the honor system. Honor should be given where it is deserved. God is above him, therefore he must recognize him by becoming a Christian.
This wise perspective didnt come without trial, and error. It took the greater part of his life to grasp the full meaning of what he was really living for. This did not mean that his life was over. As soon as he realized what he was really living for he tried to make up for the lost time. Bijarni becomes a missionary of God.
This all comes back to honor though. Hes honoring himself by honoring God. It is much like kinship. God becomes Bijarnis father, therefore he must protect, and serve him to uphold their honor. The honor systems roles can be understood, but the system can never be stopped. The system is life itself.