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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” one’s 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. Honor’s 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.
Thorstein’s nick-name “the Staff-Struck” is a strain on his honor because his
masculinity is being questioned after his first bout with Thord. Thorstein’s first reaction
to the blow to his head by Thord’s staff is not thought of as being honorable. He didn’t
respond in a way that would defend his honor. He needed to stand up for himself to
accomplish that trying task.. His response to Thord’s 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, Thorstein’s integrity was belittled in the eyes of others. One’s honor
lies not only in the eyes of one’s 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.
Thorstein’s 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. Bijarni’s 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 Bijarni’s honor in gossip, and in rumor. Bijarni then instructed the
two to leave, and return with Thorstein’s head, as he can not stand by while his servants
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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, one’s image can be severely damaged, or tarnished. When “Bijarni the
killer’s” 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
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
man’s 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 Thorstein’s dealings with Bijarni’s men, and eventually Bijarni himself. A great deal
of a man’s 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 it’s 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 man’s honor relies on the actions, and honor of others. Thorstein’s
father depends on him a great deal. Thoranin’s honor is on a delicate balance that levies
as his son’s 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.
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 Thorstein’s honor alone. This family honor was not special in
this case though. Even if Thoranin hadn’t 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.
Bijarni’s servants Thorhall, and Thorvald attempt to bring honor to him by returning
Thorstein’s 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. Honor’s 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 they’re able to make, the better off
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 Bijarni’s losses somehow needed to be compensated in
full. Thorstein looks at Bijarni’s losses as purchases made by himself, and Bijarni accepts
that perspective. Thorstein’s work is equal to that of three men, so he offers to take the
place of Bijarni’s 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 one’s 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 didn’t 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. He’s honoring himself by honoring God. It is much like kinship. God becomes Bijarni’s father, therefore he must protect, and serve him to uphold their honor. The honor system’s roles can be understood, but the system can never be stopped. The system is life itself.