The Facade of Tattoos Essay

This essay has a total of 2209 words and 8 pages.

The Facade of Tattoos

The Facade of Tattoos

In "Parker's Back" by Flannery O'Connor, the tattoos O.E. Parker receives are crucial to
the reader's understanding of him. Furthermore, O'Connor suggests them as major symbols
throughout Parker's life. Parker, the main character in this story, goes through the
actions of life without really knowing who he is and why he is on the earth. "Parker
gradually experiences religious conversion and, though tattooed all over the front of his
body, is drawn to having a Byzantine tattoo of Christ placed on his back…, O'Connor was
using unusual symbols to convey her sense of the mystery of God's redemptive power
(Shackelford, p 1800)." Because of the tattoos, the reader is able to see O'Connor reveal
the major characteristics in Parker's life and sympathize with this man as he searches for
his identity and finds God.

First of all, in order to understand O'Connor's short story, the reader must look into the
background of her life. "Parker's Back" was the last story written by O'Connor before she
died at the early age of thirty-nine from the disease of Lupus. Her writings all reflect
from her religious background of Catholicism. "O'Connor wrote brilliant stories that
brought the issue of religious faith into clear dramatic focus. She was a devout Roman
Catholic living in predominantly Protestant rural Georgia. Her stories are far from pious;
in fact, their mode is usually shocking and often bizarre. Yet the religious issues they
raise are central to her work (Drake, online vertical
file--------------------------------)." "Time and again in her stories, the spokesmen for
a self-satisfied secularism run afoul of representatives of... the God-haunted
protagonists…they play an indispensable role…they act as spiritual catalysts…(CLC,
p276………………………………….)." "To even the casual reader it would appear
that Miss O'Connor really had only one story to tell and really only one main character.
This principal character is, of course, Jesus Christ; and her one story is man's
absolutely crucial encounter with Him (Drake, p273)."

Being a devout Catholic, O'Connor's "faith consciously informed her fiction. The
difficulty of her work, she explained…is that many of her readers do not understand the
redemptive quality of ‘grace,' and, she added, ‘don't recognize it when they see it.
All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to
support it… (Becknell p,1769)." Likewise, in "Parker's Back," O'Connor uses the
protagonist, O.E. Parker to tell her story.

Parker's obsession with tattoos begins when he is fourteen and sees a circus performer
tattooed from head to foot. "O'Connor emphasizes—rather heavily…the turning point the
experience at the county fair representing Parker's destiny…the reader is clearly
‘programmed' to see it not only as the beginning of a new life of ‘unease' and unrest,
but also as a prefiguration of Parker's later conversion (Bleikasten p368)." "Parker had
never before felt the least motion of wonder in himself. Until he saw the man at the fair,
it did not enter his head that there was anything out of the ordinary about the fact that
he existed…but a peculiar unease settled in him. It was as if a blind boy had been
turned so gently in a different direction that he did not know his destination had been
changed."

This first tattoo of the eagle symbolizes pride, freedom, and power for Parker; he appears
very sure of himself, and because of this, he comes across as conceited. Parker thinks of
himself as "attractive," whereas Sarah describes him as "a heap of vanity". Parker shows
his pride in himself through his tattoos. "He did not for a minute think" that any woman
would not love to have him. His pride comes through when he points "out especial details
of" his tattoos to Sarah. One major example of Parker's pride is when he thinks he can
"please" Sarah with his tattoo of Christ. Because Parker is so sure of himself, he does
not stop to think that maybe Sarah did not want him to get another "vanity of vanities".

Moreover, Parker likes to think of himself as a freeman and able to do as he pleases. He
thinks that at anytime he can choose to he "would not return" to Sarah, yet "every night
he returned". He shows his thoughts of having his own freedom by quitting school, just
because "he could," drifting from job to job, and running from the Navy, just because he
felt like it. If one of Parker's employers offended him, "he would have left" and found a
new job. This shows his thoughts of being a freeman lead him to have no responsibility and
connect with his arrogant attitude.

The eagle also suggests the symbolism of power. Parker runs from all authority and
religion to maintain absolute rule and power over his own life. When he "didn't go back to
the Navy but remained away without official leave," he shows his power to make his own
rules without regards to the rules the Navy has for him. He also thinks a man should never
have to turn to religion. If "a man can't save his self from whatever" his own problems
are than he deserves no "sympathy". Parker refuses religion in his own life also. "I ain't
got no use for none of [religion]," says Parker. He blocks out Sarah's talks of "religious
subjects" because if God were in his life, he would not be in absolute control of himself.
"A character's desire to remain autonomous and in control of things prevents his surrender
to the transcendent—to that which is greater than he, which is uncontrollable, which is,
in the words of ‘Parker's Back,' ‘to be obeyed (CCL, p 158)."

O'Connor also uses a serpent to enhance the reader's thoughts of symbolism. "O'Connor has
a deep sense of the Devil or rather of the multiplicity of devils…(Pritchett, p268)."The
serpent on Parker's arm represents his life as being full of sin and deceit. The serpent
also serves as a symbol of a Biblical allusion. O'Connor describes Parker's life as being
full of sin. Parker's first tattoos encouraged him to "drink beer and get in fights". He
also began to get girls "who had never liked him before" because of these tattoos.
O'Connor shows Parker as quite popular among the men at the local "pool hall". In fact, he
hung out there quite "frequently". Parker describes himself as having "had other woman".
He also tries to get Sarah to "lie down together" before "they were married".

Parker's life is a life full of deceit. Not only does he lie to others around him, but he
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