One thing that sticks out in Flannery O’Connor’s “Parker’s Back” is the notion of the tattoo as something completely “other.” Parker’s tattoos mark him as being very separate from society, for better or for worse.
The first instance of a tattoo in the story is that of the nameless man who showed off his ink to a gazing crowd at the fair. The scene, while not explicitly described as such, has the feel of a freak show and one can imagine the man with the body art on a podium next to the bearded lady and conjoined twins; he doesn’t have a name but rather stands as an object for people’s viewing pleasure. When Parker finally gets one of his own, his mom disapproves of them – except for the heart with her name in it; when he finally starts to get into fights, drink, and hang out with less than reputable women, his mom is so appalled that she tries to bring him to an intervention of sorts. Later, when he joins the Navy, he does so as a journeyman, traveling around the world simply to accumulate tattoos. It gets to the point that his “otherness” lands him in the brig for being AWOL. Later, when he is back in the city, he gets into a fight with a group of people he used to be friends with. However, even before a fist is thrown, his ink is something of a spectacle – something not normal to be gawked at. Finally, at the end, his last tattoo – an attempt to become closer with his wife perhaps, the person to stand by him the most – ends up being the one that leaves him “leaning against the tree, crying like a baby,” (442).
It seems that because of his tattoos, Parker himself is regarded as some sort of “other” – be it a rebel or “idolator” [sic]. Also, the more body art he accumulates, he more he distances himself from the normative values of the world.