“Thorstein the Staff-Struck” Summary and Analysis


“Thorstein the Staff-Struck,” translated by Hermann Pálsson, contains a narrative which progresses through the use of dialogue. Dialogue is the literary term in which two characters converse in order to exchange information and advance the plot. In fact, dialogue is so critical to “Thorstein” that the short story relies upon this literary device in order to illustrate the theme of honor in society. The story of Thorstein is one in which characters strive to maintain their honor in the face of a society which values honor above life itself.

The conflicts the characters encounter involve upholding respect from the community while preserving one’s own dignity. Dialogue is the primary literary technique that highlights the position of the characters in this societal dilemma. Every character in “Thorstein” creates his or her own argument, each believing that he/she is just because they are basing their views off the accepted standards of society. Pálsson’s translation of “Thorstein the Staff-Struck” features dialogue as its narrative technique in order to advance the plot and reveal each character’s noble argument.

Thorstein, undoubtedly the main character of Pálsson’s “Thorstein the Staff-Struck,” can be considered an honorable character not only through his actions but in the dialogue he holds between himself and other characters. After Thorstein is struck by Thord and has earned the name Staff-Struck, Thorstein asks for those watching the fight not to mention the attack to his father. Thorstein recognizes his hot-tempered father might act irrationally—Thorstein demonstrates this knowledge by refusing to strike back upon Thord. Thorstein is able to live with himself after having been defeated by Thord in the match between their stallions. It is only during the dialogue between himself and his father that anger rises within him and he feels the need to defend his honor.

Thorarin, Thorstein’s father, prods Thorstein to regain his respectability after inquiring, “Weren’t you beaten senseless like a dog?” Thorstein’s calm reply of “It’s no credit to me if you call it a deliberate blow, not an accident” (1379) illustrates how he is willing to give his competitor the benefit of the doubt when it comes to acting dishonorable. The irony is that Thorarin considers his son to be a coward whereas Thorstein can be viewed as noble because he chooses not to commit an ad hominem fallacy—in other words, Thorstein does not want to think negatively of his opponent’s personal character lest he end up being in the wrong for striking back.

The dialogue between the father and son conveys the argument in which each stands: Thorarin believes his son must kill Thord in order to be honorable once more and Thorstein believes he has not lost his respectability for having been involved in a situation which may be deemed accidental. Both Thorarin and Thorstein reveal their characterizations through the dialogue they share and provide conflict to advance the plot.


“Thorstein the Staff-Struck.” Trans. Hermann Pálsson. The Norton Anthology of Western Literature. Ed. Sarah Lawall. 8th ed. Vol. 1. New York: Norton, 2006. 1375–80. Print.