Discuss the concept of “honor” in Lazarillo de Tormes. How does Lazaro’s definition of honor develop and change as a result of his life experiences from childhood to adulthood? How might this aspect of the novel contradict or confirm readers’ preconceptions and/or expectations of what “honor” either means or should mean?

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Lazarillo de Tormes is a novel that takes place in 16th century Spain, during a time known as "el Siglo de Oro" or "The Golden Age." This is a time period that goes from 1492 to 1659.

Here is the thing. This amazing time period, which is marked by...

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Lazarillo de Tormes is a novel that takes place in 16th century Spain, during a time known as "el Siglo de Oro" or "The Golden Age." This is a time period that goes from 1492 to 1659.

Here is the thing. This amazing time period, which is marked by Christopher Columbus's "discovery" of America, further expands in power and glory in the arts, with the works of Miguel de Cervantes, Pedro Calderon de la Barca, de Nebrija, Gongora, Lope de Vega, Velazquez and El Greco, just to name a few.

Still, as Spain was at a height of its economy, glory and history, its lower classes were invisible. They were insignificant and oppressed. It was the classic paradigm of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.

Do not compare what we consider "poor" in the 21st century to what was considered "poor" in the 16th century. The poor classes to which Lazarillo belonged were not just poor: they were starved, destitute, ignored, and abused.

What does all of this have to do with honor?

If we believe that art imitates life, look no further than 16th and 17th century Spanish drama to learn how flawed the concept of "honor" was in 16th century Spanish society.

Back to our previous point, as the rich grew richer, they also became more and more entitled, lazy, and snobbish. Rather than acting like potential leaders of society, and potential game changers that could make their country a better place, these "honorable" people were at the lowest point of their behavior. This applied to noblemen, clergy, landowners, and the like.

All of this is depicted in Lazarillo de Tormes. Those pathetic attitudes were expected from people with money because, after all, having a high social position precluded that you were to be "honored" for it or that you have earned such "honor." This is part of the reason why such abuse was tolerated from the "betters" towards the poor and destitute.

The 1893 article "The Economic Condition of Spain in the Sixteenth Century" by Bernard Moses, published in the Journal of Political Economy, opens a window into the psyche of post-Columbus Spain once it reached its highest economic point.

The article states that it was the attitude of entitlement and the overall indolence and carelessness of society that allowed people like Lazarillo to suffer at the hands of "the betters" or "the honorable." Sadly, the lower classes would still look up to the rich as "betters" and would even imitate them, in the belief that, indeed, it is status what determines your worth in society.

The common people, inclined always to imitate those of better fortune, followed the evil example of the gentlemen and nobles ; and it became fashionable to abhor the mechanical arts and the useful trades as unworthy of persons of intelligence and position.

The acceptance of these ideas was followed by thorough-going corruption, in which society was overrun by adventurers and all manner of persons attempting to live without work.

This kind of mentality was also the reason behind the irony in Lazarillo maintaining his dignity, humor, sarcasm, and mindset in life, even though we, as readers, can see how badly he is treated, how unfair things are, and the fact that, later on, he even becomes a cuckold just to keep a job.

All of these are examples of how the mentality of 16th century Spain embraced and treated the concept of "honor." It was a very badly constructed and very flawed concept, indeed.

Therefore, honor is always at odds in the novel. As a child, Lazarillo is so starved that he has to break with all societal rules of decorum and honor just to satisfy a basic need of food. This included cheating and stealing. He grows up to become a man too jaded by the unfairness of society that he no longer takes to heart the other bad things that continue to happen just for society to continue to "save face" and look like it is doing fine.

Once again, in Lazarillo de Tormes, honor is a very flawed concept that, perhaps in another type of society, would have reached a zenith and may have flourished into something worthy of embracing, the way it is supposed to be.

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Lazarillo challenged contemporary ideas of “honor” in the same way it transformed the nature of literature. By placing a beggar at the center of the story, the author of Lazarillo inverted the usual epic form in which a great hero plays a central role.

At the same time, he transformed the purpose of such stories; whereas in the past, heroic poems were meant to celebrate (or even create) a national heritage, Lazarillo is essentially a text of protest, a kind of exposé of the lives of poor people in sixteenth-century Spain and of the hypocrisy of the Church. As such, it necessarily redefines the notion of “honor” as it was handed down from the Middle Ages.

Lazarillo, as an indigent beggar, must learn to live by his wits. Sometimes, that means taking advantage of others, since the lesson he has learned is that unless he does so, others will take advantage of him. This is why, for example, he engages in the deceptions that allow him to steal bread from the priest who becomes his master. The priest is not a good person; Lazarillo’s stealing of the bread is partly meant to revenge himself on the priest, but mostly an attempt to stave off starvation. “Honor” is redefined from self-negation to self-preservation; by the end of the story, it has become a kind of code word for simple power. Lazarillo’s “honorable” status at the end of the story is exemplified by his ability to commit crimes with impunity.

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Honor is seen as a code of conduct that precludes Lazarillo from degrading his own sense of self.  While Lazarillo struggles with poverty and some brutal examples of abuse, he is honorable in how he never succumbs to committing acts that degrade himself or actions that deliberately take advantage of other people.  As a child, his primary responsibilities include self- sustenance in terms of food and nourishment.  These change as an adult when he apprentices for other adults and must make significant contributions to establishing his own welfare.  In these shifting realities, Lazarillo maintains his honor.  There are times when he might have to commit actions that sustain his own sense of self, such as stealing food or trying to earn a small pittance for his own being.  Yet, he carries himself in an honorable manner in how he never deliberately manipulates another for his own gain and does not violate the trust placed within him.  Sometimes, his willingness to stand for his honor causes him great challenge to himself.  Yet, this honor is what remains constant throughout his life.  At the end of the narrative, it is believed that he could commit any transgression and still be thought of in the best light.  This is a result of Lazarillo's embrace of honor.

To a great extent, this upholding of honor is what challenges the reader's expectations.  In seeing Lazarillo's economic and physical plight, one would think that honor would be sacrificed in order to advance in a setting that is clearly geared against him.  However, it is precisely because of Lazarillo's honor that he becomes a heroic figure.  Lazarillo demonstrates the power of honor as a force that enables the individual to be a part of the world, but not to succumb to it.  It is an agent of transformation that enables the individual to demonstrate what can be in a world tethered to merely what is.

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