In the Disney cartoon Mulan, Mushu, a small dragon, states, “Dishonor! Dishonor on you! Dishonor on your family! Dishonor on your cow!” Dishonor, like Mushu says, is an essential characteristic for human nature, or dragon nature in this case. Human societies value those who uphold their own honor and the honor of their families.
When members of societies do not uphold their honor, they are often cast out, either physically or emotionally. Many have the belief that it is better to die with honor, rather then live in guilt. The belief of the importance of honor is stated in the novels Life of Pi, The Crucible, Young Goodman Brown, as well as The Scarlet Letter. Obtaining honor is something that one must do for themselves, it requires hard work, and personal or worldly sacrifice.
Acquiring honor is an action the no one can do for you. It is also unable to be disguised for long. “No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude without finally getting bewildered as to which may be true,” states Nathaniel Hawthorne in the novel The Scarlet Letter; likewise, how one is unable to hide their ‘face’ for a long period of time, the same is true with honor.
One is not able to disguise their honor for long periods of time. Sooner or later, the lack of honor which a character possess will be found out. This concept of being unable to hide your honor is described in Arthur Miller’s book The Crucible. Abigail, a teenage girl, performs witchcraft in the the woods with some other of her girl friends. They are disrupted by Abigail’s uncle Reverend Parris. When talk of witchcraft runs rampant through the streets, Abigail and the other girls are quick to place accusations on other people living in Salem, rather then admitting to their evil deeds.
While Abigail is in this web of lies, the rest of the town believes that she is simply strive to cleanse the town. She says herself that “I cannot stop myself; it’s God’s work I do” (Hawthorne 32). Abigail said that she was doing the work God wanted her to do. The whole town though that she was being the voice of the Lord. This opinion of Abigail is shifts throughout the book. Abigail and her friends end up accusing many innocent people of witchcraft, and the town begins to hate and disbelieve her more and more. Abigail was pretending to be doing the right thing, but by the end of the book everyone knew that she was not what she said she was. Her lack of honor was eventually revealed, and as a result, she was shunned for what she had done. Honor is unable to be disguised for long; therefore, it is unable to be obtained by those who do not truly desire and seek for it.
An idea that is discussed in the Life of Pi is, dying with honor rather then living with guilt. In the second story that Pi, an Indian boy who survived the sinking of the Tsimtsum, tells he describes what the cook did to the kind sailor “The cook promptly butchered him. The leg [that belonged to the sailor’s] had made for poor bait. The dead flesh was too decayed to hold on to the fishing hook; it simply dissolved in the water. Nothing went to waste with this monster.
He cut up everything, including the sailor’s skin and every inch of his intestines. He even prepared his genitals. When he had finished with his torso, he moved on to his arms and shoulders and to his legs. Mother and I rocked with pain and hoor. Mother shrieked at the cook, ‘How can you do this, you monster? Where is your humanity? Have you no decency? What did the poor boy do to you? You monster! You monster!” another question could be added to the list that the mother says. “Where is your honor?” The cook obviously believed that living was better then dying with honor. However, the mother and Pi show the other side to the story. The mother was against the sailor’s body being used this way. She would have rather died with honor rather then use the boy’s corpse as bait. Her honor was more important to her then getting food.
Another example of this idea is shown in the novel The Crucible. A man by the name of John Proctor, who lived in Salem, was accused of witchcraft. If someone was accused of witchcraft that meant that they would be hanged, however if they accused confessed then they would not be hanged. The village of Salem was mostly Puritans. They have a firm belief that if you lie then you go to hell. So when innocent people get accused of witchcraft they run into a dilemma in the village of Salem; whether they should lie and live, or tell the truth and hang for it. John Proctor was faced with this decision. John Proctor talks with his wife Elizabeth on whether or not he should confess to seeing the devil and performing witchcraft.
“Proctor: I have been thinking I would confess to them, Elizabeth. What say you? If I give them that?
Elizabeth: I cannot judge you, John .
Proctor: I cannot mount the gibbet like a saint. It is a fraud. I am not that mad. My honesty is broke, Elizabeth; I am no good man. Nothing’s spoiled by giving them this lie that were not rotten long before.
Elizabeth: And yet you’ve not confessed till now. That speak goodness in you” (Miller 125)
In this exchange, John Proctor is wondering if he should lie, confess, and live. Elizabeth states that because he hasn’t confessed or lied till now that means that there is still goodness in John. He still has a bit of his honor. John Proctor eventually decides to confess, however when his signature is said to be put on the door of the church he renounced his confession. At this time he states “That I can [he is speaking in regards to tearing up his confession].
I do think I see some shred of goodness in John Proctor. Not enough to weave a banner with, but white enough to keep it from such dogs” (Miller 133). John changes his mind. He decides to not lie, to not demolish his honor; contrary he determines that he would rather hang that to lie. When Elizabeth, John’s wife, is asked to sway her husband’s decision she replies “He have his goodness now. God forbid I take it from him!” She knew that his honor was more important to him then death, and was unwilling to take that from him.
It takes work to not follow the devil, and because it takes effort to be honorable many are not. In the story Young Goodman Brown, Goodman Brown goes into the forest to meet the devil. When he does meet the devil he also sees many other faces from his town he states, “In truth they were such.
Among them, quivering to and fro between gloom and splendour, appeared faces that would be seen next day at the council board of the province, and others which, Sabbath after Sabbath, looked devoutly heavenward, and benignantly over the crowded pews, from the holiest pulpits in the land. Some affirm that the lady of the governor was there. At least there were high dames well known to her, and wives of honoured husbands, and widows, a great multitude, and ancient maidens, all of excellent repute, and fair young girls, who trembled lest their mothers should espy them. Either the sudden gleams of light flashing over the obscure field bedazzled Goodman Brown, or he recognised a score of the church members of Salem Village famous for their especial sanctity.
Good old Deacon Gookin had arrived, and waited at the skirts of that venerable saint, his revered pastor. But, irreverently consorting with these grave, reputable, and pious people, these elders of the church, these chaste dames and dewy virgins, there were men of dissolute lives and women of spotted fame, wretches given over to all mean and filthy vice, and suspected even of horrid crimes.” (Hawthorne 9). This congregation made the decision to follow the devil, and as such, lost their honor. He saw so many people sitting at the Devil’s fire because it is easy to not have honor. It takes hard work and sacrifice to uphold your honor.
Ultimately, honor is an essential part of human culture. It is a valued and respected trait. Although there are many beliefs about honor, it does require discipline, hard work, and it sometimes brings the wrath and frustration of other individuals.