On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer | Summary, Setting & Quotes | Study.com (2022)

Michele Honeycutt, Bethany Calderwood
  • AuthorMichele Honeycutt

    Michele has taught middle school, high school, and collegiate English for over 20 years. She has a bachelor's degree in English with a minor in Women's Studies from The University of North Carolina Charlotte, a master's degree in English Education from Gardner-Webb University, and an Educational Specialist degree in Educational Leadership from Converse College. She is also a National Board Certified Teacher and a licensed principal and superintendent.

  • InstructorBethany Calderwood

    Bethany is a certified Special Education and Elementary teacher with 11 years experience teaching Special Education from grades PK through 5. She has a Bachelor's degree in Special Education, Elementary Education, and English from Gordon College and a Master's degree in Special Education from Salem State University.

Learn about ''On My Honor'' by Marion Dane Bauer. Review the setting, study the summary, understand the themes, and read the quotes from ''On My Honor''.Updated: 03/03/2022

Table of Contents

  • "On My Honor"
  • Summary of "On My Honor"
  • Quotes from "On My Honor" Book
  • Lesson Summary
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"On My Honor"

"On My Honor" by Marion Dane Bauer was published in 1986. This loss of innocence novel is loosely based on an incident that occurred to the author's childhood friend. In real life, her friend, Ralph, went swimming with another boy in the Vermillion River, a forbidden place that was dirty and dangerous. Unfortunately, Ralph lost his friend in the river, and even though he tried to find him, he could not. Thus, he went home to his room and did not tell anyone. Bauer took this frame for the novel and created "On My Honor" as a way to give closure for both her friend, Ralph and herself. While the author never talked with Ralph about his feelings, Bauer puts herself in the characters' shoes and creates the emotional resolution readers need in her text.

Setting of "On My Honor" Book

The setting of "On My Honor" is a modern, small town near the Vermillion River; it is a hot summer day. Starved Rock Park, where the boys originally intend to go, is in Oglesby, Illinois. The Vermillion River is described as a filthy, polluted river where chemicals have been dumped.

Honor

Have you ever heard someone make a promise and say ''on my honor''? What is honor? Sometimes the word honor refers to a privilege or an award. As an action, honor means to show respect or to keep an agreement. If you say you will do something on your honor, you are asking to be trusted to keep your word. On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer is a story about a boy who makes his father a promise - on his honor - and what happens when he breaks that promise.

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Summary of "On My Honor"

Two teenage boys, born only a few months apart, have been friends since childhood; they just completed the sixth grade. However, other than being 12-years-old, Joel Bates and Tony Zabrinsky are nothing alike. Joel is a quiet rule-follower; he listens to and respects his parents. Tony is more adventurous and daring; he often teases Joel about not taking risks. Tony is the type who uses a parachute to jump out of his bedroom window and wind up in the hospital. Nonetheless, the boys are together frequently, and on this day, decide what they will do for fun.

Tony talks Joel into riding twelve miles to Starved Rock Park. This journey worries Joel because Tony wants to climb the cliffs at the Starved Rock bluffs, and another person has already died there as they are so treacherous. Tony keeps badgering Joel, so Joel goes to ask his father if he can bike the twelve-mile journey with his friend. While Joel hopes his father will reject the idea, the opposite happens. First, his father makes sure the boys have packed lunch and that Tony has asked for permission from his mother, the fact that Tony lies about and says that he did. Next, Joel's four-year-old brother hears of the bike ride and begs to go but is not allowed to participate. Finally, his father lets him go as long as he promises, on his honor, that the park is the only place they will go. Joel gives his word, knowing he is already lying through omission as he did not tell his father about the detour to the bluffs.

As the boys travel, they cross over the Vermillion River bridge. Tony stops and tells Joel they should go swimming instead of rock climbing. Joel tells Tony that it is too dangerous and that the water is polluted. Tony ignores Joel and heads to the river; he quickly undresses and wades in, daring and mocking Joel and challenging him a race. Tired of Tony's ribbing, Joel undresses and gets in the river. Joel notices that Tony is not that good of a swimmer as they race. He jokes that he "will never make the swim team next year if he does not practice." When he suggests that they practice at the town pool, Tony admits that he does not want people making fun of him. Joel asks Tony if he is okay to continue, and Tony says he is.

While Joel swims, he notices the strong current but hears Tony "blowing and puffing like a whale" behind him. However, once Joel reaches the sandbar, he looks around for Tony, but Tony is nowhere to be found. At first, he thinks Tony is playing a trick on him but soon realizes that Tony must have gone under. Frantically, Joel dives around, trying to find him but has no success. He quickly dresses and goes for help. He sees a car and flags down a boy and girl; the boy immediately gets out and dives into the water trying to find Tony. Unfortunately, the boy cannot find Tony and suggests that Joel call the police. Joel goes to get his bicycle and heads for home, knowing that everyone will blame him for Tony's death.

Once home, Joel goes to his room. He does not tell anyone about Tony's death. He thinks his father knows when he angrily calls for him, but he is only mad because he found out that Tony lied to his mom; she knew nothing about the bicycle ride to Starved Rock. So Joel lies and says that Tony went to Starved Rock by himself; Joel then goes off with his four-year-old brother, Bobby, to deliver newspapers. During the ride, he recalls all the times he and Tony spent together and tried to come to terms with his friend's death.

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Later, the Zabrinkey calls the police as Tony cannot be found. Joel goes with his father to Tony's house, and he finally tells the truth that Tony drowned in the river. Joel loses control and screams at his dad; he is angry that his father allowed them to go to Starved Rock. Joel runs home; his father follows, and the two talk. His father apologizes for letting the boys go, and Joel says he wishes he was the one who drowned. His father visits with him later, and together they discuss Tony's death. The novel ends with Joel wondering if Tony is in heaven; his father holds Joel as he goes off to sleep.

Themes in "On My Honor"

  • Choices In the novel, Tony and Joel are given choices. They choose to be friends even though they have nothing much in common. They decide to lie to both of their parents. The choice is not to reveal their fears; Tony does not mention he cannot swim, and Joel does not mention that he is afraid of rock-climbing and swimming in the polluted river. Joel makes independent choices of lying to his dad and Tony's mother about Tony going to Starved Rock alone. Joel's dad also let Joel go on the bike ride without checking with Tony's mother. In all of these incidents, the reality that choice is inherently dangerous falls to the rear. No one realizes the dangers of their choices until it is too late. All choices have consequences; Tony paid for him with his life. Joel and his dad have to live with their choices for the rest of their lives.
  • Guilt Joel bears most of the guilt in the novel. From his choices, he has to live without his best friend, and he has to face his parents and Tony's parents for the rest of his life. This is a huge psychological issue for a twelve-year-old and one he will not likely get over soon, hence why the novel is classified as a loss of innocence text. However, guilt is a powerful motivator for Joel for the rest of his life. Already a rule follower, Joel has to live with not being "an honorable boy" like his dad says he is. He will spend the rest of his life making sure he lives honorably out of respect for his father and Tony.

Quotes from "On My Honor" Book

  • " But he didn't know what kept him and Tony together except that other kids seemed boring after Tony."

Joel knows that he and Tony are opposites, but they make up one well-rounded boy. Opposites help one person become stronger as they each have different weaknesses. The depth of friendship the two boys had will live with Joel. He will have the opportunity to take chances and make choices again. Those choices may require Tony's strength and daring, while others may remind him to think twice.

  • " On your honor?" he said. "You'll watch for traffic, and you won't go anywhere except the park? You'll be careful the whole way?" "On my honor," Joel repeated, and he crossed his heart, solemnly, then raised his right hand."

This quote drives the entire novel and is referenced in the novel's title. Giving his oath, knowing that he will break it, foreshadows Joel's moral dilemma.

  • " I'm just waiting for you to drown," Joel answered. "I just want to see it so I can tell your folks." "Keep them from worrying," Tony tossed back. "Keep your mom from waiting for supper," Joel replied."

Before going into the river, Joel and Tony banter back and forth, saying careless things that boys sometimes speak to one another. Joel tries to get up an image in front of Tony as he secretly admires Tony's 'full of life' demeanor. On the other hand, Tony tries to keep up appearances; he knows he has a 'tough-guy' image, but he does not want Joel to know he cannot swim. Both boys relax; they do not know this event foreshadows future events.

Lesson Summary

"On My Honor" by Marion Dane Bauer was published in 1986. This loss of innocence novel tells of two boys: quiet and reflective, Joel, and impulsive and daring, Tony. After lying to both of their parents, the boys set off to climb the cliffs at Starved Rock. Joel feels dubious about going and wishes his dad had denied permission; he gave his word, "On my honor," to his dad about only going to the park and back and feels terrible about lying as he never told his dad about the cliffs. Nonetheless, both boys begin the twelve-mile bicycle journey. Tony thinks they should go swimming and dares Joel to a contest as they cross the Vermillion River. Joel is tired of Tony teasing him and agrees. Unfortunately, Tony drowns, and instead of calling the police, Joel goes home and shuts himself in his room. He chooses to lie to both his and Tony's parents until he eventually breaks down and tells the truth.

Bauer framed this novel on real-life circumstances involving her childhood friend. In this novel, she seeks to provide a discussion for choices that people make and the guilt that stems from those choices. Our choices define who we are and who we become, and sometimes guilt does the same as it reminds us of what history we do not want to repeat.

Joel and Tony ride their bikes to the Vermillion River.
On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer | Summary, Setting & Quotes | Study.com (1)

A Promise Given

Joel and Tony have been friends since infancy. Tony likes to take risks and push limits, and Joel often finds himself reluctantly following along. One hot summer day, Tony wants to bike to Starved Rock and climb the cliffs there. Joel feels it is too dangerous, but Tony scoffs at his fear.

In an attempt to avoid the outing, Joel asks his father's permission. He doesn't mention the cliff climbing, but asks his father if they may ride their bikes the twelve miles to Starved Rock. Joel tries hard to talk his father into agreeing, all the while hoping his father will say no. Instead, his father reluctantly agrees, making Joel promise on his honor that they will be careful and go nowhere except the state park. Joel promises and sets off with Tony, certain that something bad will happen.

A Promise Broken

Partway to Starved Rock, Tony pulls over at the Vermillion River and suggests a swim. Joel protests that the river is filthy and the currents are dangerous. Tony strips off his clothing and enters the river, taunting Joel as he goes.

Finally, Joel joins Tony in the river. Tired of Tony's teasing, Joel dares Tony to race to a sandbar in the middle of the river. As Joel swims, he realizes that the current is stronger than he expected. When he reaches the sandbar, Tony is nowhere in sight. Joel frantically searches for Tony, but Tony is gone. Joel realizes that Tony has likely drowned.

The Aftermath

Devastated, Joel cannot decide what to do. He asks a passing driver for help. The driver looks briefly, then tells Joel that there is no chance Tony is still alive. He tells Joel to go to the police.

Joel is terrified of telling the police, his parents or Tony's parents what happened. He rides away from the river, feeling guilty and wondering if he can possibly hide his guilt. When he gets home, he locks himself in his room, going over and over in his mind what he did and what he wishes he had done differently. He feels responsible for Tony's death.

Joel and Tony's parents question Joel about where Tony is. At first he lies, but when his father appeals to his honor, Joel breaks down and tells the whole story. He blames himself, and he blames his father for giving them permission to go.

Later, Joel's father talks with him. He says that he, Joel, and Tony all made choices that day, and that Tony is the only one who doesn't have to live with those choices. Because they have no other option, together they will have to learn to live with the guilt.

Lesson Summary

On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer is a story about honor, choices and guilt. It tells the story of Joel's broken promise that leads to the death of his friend Tony, and of his struggle to respond to that tragedy.

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Honor

Have you ever heard someone make a promise and say ''on my honor''? What is honor? Sometimes the word honor refers to a privilege or an award. As an action, honor means to show respect or to keep an agreement. If you say you will do something on your honor, you are asking to be trusted to keep your word. On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer is a story about a boy who makes his father a promise - on his honor - and what happens when he breaks that promise.

Joel and Tony ride their bikes to the Vermillion River.
On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer | Summary, Setting & Quotes | Study.com (2)

A Promise Given

Joel and Tony have been friends since infancy. Tony likes to take risks and push limits, and Joel often finds himself reluctantly following along. One hot summer day, Tony wants to bike to Starved Rock and climb the cliffs there. Joel feels it is too dangerous, but Tony scoffs at his fear.

In an attempt to avoid the outing, Joel asks his father's permission. He doesn't mention the cliff climbing, but asks his father if they may ride their bikes the twelve miles to Starved Rock. Joel tries hard to talk his father into agreeing, all the while hoping his father will say no. Instead, his father reluctantly agrees, making Joel promise on his honor that they will be careful and go nowhere except the state park. Joel promises and sets off with Tony, certain that something bad will happen.

A Promise Broken

Partway to Starved Rock, Tony pulls over at the Vermillion River and suggests a swim. Joel protests that the river is filthy and the currents are dangerous. Tony strips off his clothing and enters the river, taunting Joel as he goes.

Finally, Joel joins Tony in the river. Tired of Tony's teasing, Joel dares Tony to race to a sandbar in the middle of the river. As Joel swims, he realizes that the current is stronger than he expected. When he reaches the sandbar, Tony is nowhere in sight. Joel frantically searches for Tony, but Tony is gone. Joel realizes that Tony has likely drowned.

The Aftermath

Devastated, Joel cannot decide what to do. He asks a passing driver for help. The driver looks briefly, then tells Joel that there is no chance Tony is still alive. He tells Joel to go to the police.

Joel is terrified of telling the police, his parents or Tony's parents what happened. He rides away from the river, feeling guilty and wondering if he can possibly hide his guilt. When he gets home, he locks himself in his room, going over and over in his mind what he did and what he wishes he had done differently. He feels responsible for Tony's death.

Joel and Tony's parents question Joel about where Tony is. At first he lies, but when his father appeals to his honor, Joel breaks down and tells the whole story. He blames himself, and he blames his father for giving them permission to go.

Later, Joel's father talks with him. He says that he, Joel, and Tony all made choices that day, and that Tony is the only one who doesn't have to live with those choices. Because they have no other option, together they will have to learn to live with the guilt.

Lesson Summary

On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer is a story about honor, choices and guilt. It tells the story of Joel's broken promise that leads to the death of his friend Tony, and of his struggle to respond to that tragedy.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Is On My Honor based on a true story?

On My Honor is based on a true story. In the author's childhood, her friend, Ralph, and another boy went swimming. Unfortunately, Ralph's friend did not survive; Ralph was so distraught, he went home and did not tell anyone about the drowning.

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What is On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer about?

The novel is about Joel and Tony's ride to the state park. On the way, Tony challenges Joel to a swimming contest; Tony drowns, and Joel goes home and hides, afraid to tell anyone the truth.

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FAQs

What is the setting of the book On My Honor? ›

The setting of "On My Honor" is a modern, small town near the Vermillion River; it is a hot summer day. Starved Rock Park, where the boys originally intend to go, is in Oglesby, Illinois. The Vermillion River is described as a filthy, polluted river where chemicals have been dumped.

Is On My Honor a true story? ›

I borrowed the events of the story from real events. Everything was in place for me when I sat down to write, except for creating a character who was clearly not Ralph and a family that was not his family. But nonetheless, On My Honor is not Ralph's story.

What is the moral of the story On My Honor? ›

The story is really an exploration of the way one small decision can have an irreversible impact on the life of a child, and the moral obligation people have to do the right thing even in the face of great tragedy.

How does On My Honor end? ›

Joel ends up winning the race, but when he turns to look back at Tony, he finds that he has disappeared. Tony has drowned in the river they were told never to swim in as he could not swim.

What is the meaning of On My Honor? ›

Definition of on one's honor

used to say that one promises to do something On my honor, I will do my duty.

What is the climax of On My Honor? ›

Joel asks his father for permission to visit the park and lies on his honor. Which of the following is the climax of On My Honor? Joel goes home and decides to carry the guilt rather than tell the truth.

What are the main characters in On My Honor? ›

Joel Bates

Joel is the main character in the novel. Like his friend Tony, he just finished sixth grade and will be entering junior high next year. Joel is scrupulous, conscientious, reflective, and prone to worrying.

Is On My Honor a movie? ›

"ON MY HONOR"(the movie) showing nationwide on October 26/2019....

How many chapters are in the book On My Honor? ›

Create titles for the twelve chapters of the book.

Why was On My Honor Marion banned? ›

(1995) because it was "depressing." The criteria used to select the Newbery Award winning book along with a list of other books that focus on "divorce, death, suicide and defeat," was contested. Solonor Says Ban It Because: It's damned depressing as frigging hell.

Who is the author of On My Honor? ›

About the Author

Marion Dane Bauer has written more than one hundred children's books, including picture books, easy readers, early chapter books, and novels. She won a Newbery Honor for On My Honor, a middle grade coming-of-age story.

What is the reading level of On My Honor? ›

On My Honor | Bauer, Marion Dane | Lexile & Reading Level: 750.

Is Marion Dane Bauer still alive? ›

She lives and works in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Why did Joel ask his father if he could ride to Starved Rock with Tony? ›

Why did Joel ask his father if he could ride to Starved Rock with Tony? He wanted to do something exciting with Tony before school started.

What is the meaning of in memory? ›

Definition of in memory of

: made or done to honor someone who has died The monument is in memory of the soldiers who died in battle on this field. He donated the painting in memory of his wife.

What is the difference between honor and honour? ›

But some might frown if you do it the other way around, because there is a slight difference between the two spellings that has nothing to do with the meaning of the word itself: Honor is the preferred spelling in American English and is pronounced \ˈä-nər\; Honour is the preferred spelling in British English and is ...

What does it mean to say it's an honor? ›

It would be an honor!: I would feel privileged, esteemed, proud! idiom.

How old is Joel in on my honor? ›

Summary of "On My Honor" Two teenage boys, born only a few months apart, have been friends since childhood; they just completed the sixth grade. However, other than being 12-years-old, Joel Bates and Tony Zabrinsky are nothing alike. Joel is a quiet rule-follower; he listens to and respects his parents.

Is my honor was loyalty in English? ›

This movie absolutely DOES have English subtitles.

Is On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer a movie? ›

A riveting story of two boys whose friendship is abruptly cut short when one drowns while swimming in a forbidden river. This moving account tackles a difficult subject with understanding. This video is quite wonderful. Filmed for the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival in 2018, we have permission from Mr.

What happened in Chapter 1 of On My Honor? ›

Chapter 1 Summary

Zabrinsky, began babysitting Joel when he was six months old, so the two boys have grown up together. As the book begins, Tony makes a wild suggestion to his friend Joel: climb the Starved Rock Bluffs, a treacherous, sheer river bluff located at the state park.

Why does Joel smell the river so prominently when no one else smells the odor? ›

Why does Joel smell the river so prominently when no one else notices the odor? Joel smells the river because he is feeling guilty for what has happened with Tony.

What did Joel compare swimming in the river to? ›

On My Honor
AB
Tell what Joel can't make disappear?Joel couldn't make the smell of the river go away; it was etched in his memory
Whom did Joel mostly blame for the events that occurred?himself
Why did Joel agree to go swimming in the river?He didn't want Tony to think he was chicken
31 more rows

Why was all the bright places challenged? ›

All the Bright Places.

Knopf Publishing Group. Challenged and under review in the sophomore-level Academic English II classes at Lemont, Ill., High School District 210 because a parent considered it “pornographic.” The novel won the 2015 Goodreads Choice Award for Young Adult fiction.

Why was Morris micklewhite and the tangerine dress banned? ›

This was one of four books challenged by public petition in Orange City's (IA) public library. The concern articulated by a coalition of conservative and evangelical community members was that the library was distributing LGBTQIA+ materials to pre-K kids using tax dollars.

Why is a separate peace a banned book? ›

A Separate Peace, by John Knowles

Challenged at the Fannett-Metal High School in Shippensburg, PA (1985) because of its allegedly offensive language. Challenged as appropriate for high school reading lists in the Shelby County, TN school system (1989) because the novel contains "offensive language."

Who is the publisher publishing company of On My Honor? ›

Publisher: Random House, Inc.

What is the difference between a novel and a novella? ›

A work of fiction between 20,000 and 49,999 words is considered a novella. Once a book hits the 50,000 word mark, it is generally considered a novel. (However, a standard novel is around 80,000 words, so books between 50,000 to 79,999 words may be called short novels.)

How many books has Marion Dane Bauer written? ›

Marion Dane Bauer

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