Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Question of Honor

Writing about Rambo, I was reminded of something that happened the last few years I was teaching. Every year, my students and I would read "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," not to be confused with "Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady" which is quite another story altogether.

So the story commences with the Green Knight barging into Arthur's court and issuing a challenge. He will let any knight present take a swing at his head with an axe and in return he will reciprocate a year from the date. Well, King Arthur's knights who are not exactly slouches must suspect something because not a one takes up the challenge. Finally, after much taunting on the part of the Green Knight, Arthur accepts in order to uphold the honor of his court. At this point Gawain springs into action and takes his liege lord's place. The now decapitated Green Knight picks up his head and rides off with a reminder of Gawain's pledge.

Every year, we would read the story, and my students would realize that Gawain was honor bound to find the Green Knight at the end of the year. He had given his word. That is until the last few years. One of my less intellectually inclined students raised his hand and said, "Mrs. N, what was this guy stupid or somethin'. Why's he going to let this guy chop off his head?" At first I thought it was just this young man, but as I looked around there were nods of agreement. They could not understand the concept of honor, of living up to your word. So I went home to complain to my daughter, who said, "tell you the truth, I never understood that."

For the last few years, I would have to teach the quaint notion of honor the way I would have to introduce the legendary world of Arthur. Scary, that.

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