Like the characters we have read about so far, Parker is motivated to get a tattoo once he sees it on another person. However, he is later motivated by what he perceives the desire of another, his wife Sarah. His obsession with tattoos is first formed he is only fourteen “when he saw a man in a fair, tattooed from head to toe” (427). The appearance of the man affected Parker to such a degree that a “peculiar unease settled in him” since that moment (427). Since then, he lived his life to add more tattoos to his body. In this phase of his life, his main goal is to merely get tattoos: “He did not care much what the subject was so long as it was colorful” (428). His only criteria, though, is that the tattoo must be easily visible to himself, since he has “no desire for one anywhere he could not readily see” (429). As a result, Parker’s back remains free of any tattoos.
However, his desires soon begin to change when he first meets Sarah. Her reaction to his tattoos bewilders Parker. Unlike the other girls who were attracted to him mainly because of his tattoos (428), Sarah shows almost no interest in them. After gazing at his tattoos with “an almost stupefied smile of shock” (427), she dismisses them as “a heap of vanity” and “vanity of vanities” (429). To add insult to injury, she demeans his eagle tattoo (his first one) by calling it a chicken (429). Sarah’s insulting stance on Parker’s tattoos prompt a new phase in his life, where he is more obsessed with the desire to get a tattoo that will force Sarah to notice it and him in the process. Thus, the tattoo becomes a way to actualize for Parker’s desire to be accepted by Sarah.
Knowing that she is dead set against looking at his tattoos, which she demeans as “trash” (442), Parker is consumed in thought until he experiences almost prophetic vision that leads him to an epiphany: the best tattoo to get Sarah to notice is an iconic representation of her god on his back. In this decision, Parker caters only to his perceived ideas of what Sarah wants. Since “if she had had better sense,” she would enjoy a tattoo on his back, one that would be exclusively for her viewing pleasure (432). The subject of the tattoo now matters to Parker; he desires the subject to move Sarah to force her to notice and enjoy it. Thus, what is a better image than for an iconic representation of her God? “She can’t say she don’t like the looks of God” (438).
The main reason for Parker’s motivation to get a new tattoo no longer depends on his “own sound judgment” (437) but rather depends on what he thinks Sarah wants and what he’ll ultimately gain from her once he meets her perceived desires. With the right tattoo, he would get Sarah’s admiration, something he always lacked (433). With Christ’s image on his back, Parker believes that once Sarah sees it, she has to worship it and admire him in the process. Unluckily for Parker, she is disgusted at the tattoo, and views it as idolatry. Instead of the desired admiration from her, Parker is disappointed to receive criticism and punishment.