Honor & Slavery: Lies, Duels, Noses, Masks, Dressing as a Woman, Gifts, Strangers, Humanitarianism, Death, Slave Rebellions, the Proslavery Argument, Baseball, Hunting, and Gambling in the Old South

By McMillen, Sally G | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Winter 1997 | Go to article overview

Honor & Slavery: Lies, Duels, Noses, Masks, Dressing as a Woman, Gifts, Strangers, Humanitarianism, Death, Slave Rebellions, the Proslavery Argument, Baseball, Hunting, and Gambling in the Old South


McMillen, Sally G, The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


Honor & Slavery: Lies, Duels, Noses, Masks, Dressing as a Woman, Gifts, Strangers, Humanitarianism, Death, Slave Rebellions, the Proslavery Argument, Baseball, Hunting, and Gambling in the Old South. By KENNET S. GREENBERG. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996. xvi, 176 pp. $24.95.

IF for nothing other than its intriguing subtitle, this book should interest every scholar of the Old South. In fact, all readers will find numerous thoughts to ponder in Kenneth S. Greenberg's fascinating exploration of the multiple facets of southern honor. This is a challenging, well argued, witty, and provocative study. Greenberg's insights into the expression of male honor through language and behavior broaden our understanding of the antebellum South as well as shed light on southern character today. Although dueling and nose pulling may be outdated, saving face, putting one's life on the line, or valuing appearance above all else still resonate in the region.

Greenberg uncovers honor in numerous forms of behavior and in literary allusions. A well-defined code of honor was central to white southern male existence. The manifestations of this code became a critical component of slave society and served as another means to set the free apart from the enslaved. Slaves simply could not act honorably, nor could they engage in activities that gave them a sense of honor. Only whites enjoyed such privilege and power as well as the ability to gain or defend this principle. White men continually acted out a drama to establish their position and status with one another and over those whom they enslaved.

Northerners had difficulty understanding a concept of honor that lacked a profit motive or competitive drive. For instance, gambling was honorable among elite southern males; at the card table or racetrack, one risked everything in a game among friendly equals. Yet professional northern gamblers were considered the scum of the earth and run out of town. The latter gambled for profit, preferred to play among strangers rather than friends, and even cheated. An honorable southern man would never adopt such standards. …

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