Opposites Don’t Always Attract
It is fascinating to think that a single stimulus can create an entire spectrum of reactions. Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “Parker’s Back,” and Juniper Ellis’, Tattooing the World, both illustrate how tattoo can either be accepted and encouraged, or feared and even hated. Parker cherishes his tattoos and thinks they give him an identity, while his wife thoroughly detests them. Likewise, James O’Connell’s tatau gives him acceptance into the Oceanic community, yet in America his tattoos cause women to flee from him.
“Parker’s Back” shows the breakdown of a marriage that is most directly caused by completely opposing mindsets of Parker and his wife, but is shown through their disagreement over tattoos. Parker’s wife, Sarah Ruth, is religious, serious, and plain. Parker, on the other hand, is an ex-member of the Navy, not religious, and heavily tattooed. The two are completely wrong for each other, and Parker wonders if “she had married him because she meant to save him” (O’Connor, 425). Their stark differences come to a head when Parker gets a tattoo of God on his back. Parker has an epiphany and thinks that this tattoo will please his wife, but Sarah Ruth has a completely adverse reaction to it and actually beats Parker. These conflicting views of the tattoo symbolize the incompatible beliefs of the husband and wife, and show how these discordant beliefs lead to the breakdown of the marriage.
Tattooing the World also describes how one man’s body art spurs acceptance into a community, but also spurs great confusion and fear. James O’Connell’s story of being tattooed in the Pacific Islands and then travelling to America depicts how one idea can have such disparate reactions among different cultures. In the Pacific Islands, “the traditional patterns gave him his life”, but in New York, he is considered a freak marvel (Ellis, 1). Although in both contexts the tattoos give O’Connell an identity, these identities are vastly different. This is because the community-based Pacific Island culture itself is starkly different from the more conservative and individualized American culture. Like when Parker’s wife rejects Parker’s new beloved tattoo, O’Connell’s tattoos act as both “an index of inclusion and exclusion” in different cultures (Ellis, 49).
At my service learning in the self-contained class at Tunbridge, I thought about how the children with learning disabilities also can cause quite different reactions in people. Unlike tattoos, which people usually freely choose to get, the students in my class did not choose to have their disabilities. However, since they are considered “different” from the typical population, various people perceive them differently. For example, my teacher and I treat the children with respect, and admire their uniqueness. However, I have seen other professionals treat the children as if they are infants, and attempt to make them “normal”. Like Parker and O’Connell’s tattoos, the disorders of the children mark them as different and somewhat define their identity as a “disabled” child. However, also like the tattoos, the disorders of the child do not completely make them who they are. In comparison to Parker’s wife and the New Yorkers, people who fear or have adverse reactions to the students are in an ignorant and confused mindset. They reject foreign or atypical things because they do not conform to their preconceived notions of “normal”. Much like the Pacific Islanders and Parker, my teacher and I accept the differences of the children and try not to let the labels of “disordered” affect our view of them as whole individuals. Although the children may be different, they are still a great part of the Tunbridge community and should be appreciated rather than feared.