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The Honorable Men Summary

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Kenneth S. Greenberg attempts to translate the language of the “honorable men” in the antebellum South. Although they spoke English, words and gestures held a different meaning to them than what a common person might think. His goal is to help us understand the interactions of these men so we can get a glimpse into their world during this time period where slavery transpired, honor meant more than life itself, and Civil War was on the verge. If you were to observe a conversation between southern gentlemen, you would think you knew exactly what they were discussing. In reality, they have an entire different meaning to the common words we use in the English language. Everything they say and do needs to be taken into context of their situation…show more content…
When most people think of a gift exchange, they picture neatly wrapped presents on Christmas morning, however, the gift exchange of southern men was very different than this image. These encounters seemed like ordinary market exchanges, yet they were much different. A gift was given out of generosity, meaning the giver expected nothing in return. For example, a man of honor recognizes that a woman’s husband has died and she must support her family alone. Instead of only buying one cup of coffee from her café a day, he now purchases three so she will gain a greater profit even though he does not want to drink three cups. Although it may appear as a market exchange because the man is receiving coffee, it is actually a gift to the widow. Duels and gift exchanges are directly related as well. Only honorable men were capable of giving gifts just like they were the only people who could participate in duels. It was considered honorable for men to duel in order to settle disputes. Therefore, when a man offered to duel another, he was giving him a gift of an opportunity to show his integrity. Men of honor were capable of giving gifts because they owned things unlike slaves. Slaves could not give anything because they did not possess anything. It would be insulting for a white man to receive a gift from a
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