Dr. Juniper Ellis
Travel Literature Class
March 11, 2015
Enduring Reminders: Get off of Parker and Ben’s Back!
Flannery O’Connor’s protagonist does not see the link between tattoo and meaningful expression. He seems to think of it as an accessory to fill the space of his skin. “He [Parker] did not care much what the subject was as long as it was colorful…Parker would be satisfied with each tattoo for about a month, then something about it that attracted him would wear off” (Para 428). A tattoo’s significance was meant to be a permanent symbol of one’s genealogy and social presence. His lackluster attitude towards his tattoos clashes with Samoan’s tattoo philosophy sacredness. His tattoos tends to be disjointed and unconnected. An eagle on a canon, anchors, tigers, heart with his mother’s name on it, hawks, cobras, panther, Queen Elizabeth II, and Phillip have no overlapping theme; thus, Parker even finds them unsatisfactory and repulsive. “Whenever there was a decent-sized mirror available, he would get in front of it and study it overall look. The effect was not one of intricate arabesque of colors but of something haphazard and botched” (p 428).
It isn’t till he suffers a life-threatening trauma; he decides to fill the blank space on his back. Saved from a burning tractor, Parker decides on a tattoo of Christ on his back. His choice is large fully for his wife a very Christian woman. His choice is one of both vulnerable and willingness to be with his love. His back is the one area not tattooed or can be seen; therefore, the intimacy and dedication for the symbol is sacred. The narrator claims, “The front of Parker was completely covered but there were no tattoos on his back. He had no desire for one anywhere he could not readily see it himself” (p 429). To utilize his final blank space for Jesus shows his attempt at receiving Grace for both himself and his wife who he is attempting to change for.
Similarly a Ju-Jitsu friend Ben Bat experiences a life threatening experience that prompts him to re-crave an image upon his back. In addition, the tattoo is a confrontation of life and death and for the changing relationship to his loved one as well. His tattoo is the Batman symbol, black and red outline with sharp jaded strokes etched into his upper back. It took a year to complete. I meekly under the impression of my friend’s hero lust of Batman assumed he got the tattoo to show his dream of becoming Batman. He dashed that notion quickly. He told me it encompassed all of his life from youth to childhood as the symbol of his childhood, which ended with his father’s death in his sophomore year of college. Intrigued I asked him the two reasons why he felt they were symbols of the past instead of the future. He explained to me that first, the memorial for his father who was everything Batman could never be, and second, the symbol of attachment and earthy value to life after experiencing death. The void of life with all the potential of what could be or should have been are nothing but illusions and in order to confront that void of nihilism, he decided to consciously fill the void in a space that control his spinal cord, brain, and could not see yet sense. That is why he chooses to fill the blank space on his back.
Like Parker, Ben Bat sees connection among life, death, and tattooing. The tattoo is his awareness to keep on living. A physical enduring tribute to another and a reminder that life is transient, impermanent, and non-chronological. Life is a void, a space, and with our mind and body we fill that space. Unlike Parker, Ben sees the importance of a singular tattoo and the emphasis of not seeking the approval of others, but rather defining the acceptance of himself. Parker mourns as his wife misunderstands and kicks him out of his home. Ben already through his tattoo has made his home in the universe. Through his back, his skin shouts, “Back off! For I am aware of the void and I will fill it before it consumes me whole!”
O'Connor, Flannery. "Parker's Back." Everything That Rises Must Coverage. New York: Signet Classic, 1965. 425-442. Print.