I completely agree with Courtney’s assertion: what we are seeing in both Wendt’s “Cross of Soot” and Flannery O’Conner’s “Parker’s Back” are classic examples of mimetic desire. Both the boy and Parker are fascinated by the permanent soot/ink they see on others and desire to be adorned with the same thing. The major difference between these two characters is their respective reactions to the permanent additions to their bodies. The boy sees the tattoo as an honor—a platform that catapults him into a new level of maturity, a cross-roads in his life. He is humbled by the pain of the procedure, and respectful of the importance of the addition to its body as well as the meaning of the motif of the tattoo. He exemplifies all of the qualities that make the Pacific ritual tradition of tattooing so significant and sacred.
O.E. Parker, on the other hand, appreciates the tattoo simply for its aesthetic value; it is, as Sarah Ruth terms it, “the vanity of vanities”(429). There does not seem to be much meaning besides the choices of the designs of each tattoo. He often sleeps through the procedure itself. He attempts to show his body art off at every opportunity he gets(and especially to the ladies for the sex appeal he believes they hold, though the scene in the pool hall at the end of the story makes it clear that men know of his affinity for tattooing as well). He refuses, until there is quite literally nowhere else to put it, to get a tattoo on his back because, “he had no desire for one anywhere he could not readily see it himself”(429). In short, he appreciated the permanent art for its decorative value alone—and each only for a brief period at that. He seems to be the epitome of the shallow Western conception of tattooing as simply body adornment.
While the boy may have mimicked Samasoni in choosing to be tattooed, he internalized and personalized the art; he allowed the symbol to morph into a sacred part of himself. Parker’s mimetic desire fell short of attaining personal meaning—his choice to be “decorated” left him feeling more isolated each time he acquired a new design. He was attempting to be an individual, and to allow this individuality to make him a recognized member of community—an idea we discussed in class—but his misinterpretation of the deeper meaning behind tattooing simply rendered him isolated and confused. His treatment of his newest tattoo in Christ’s likeness seemed to be quite literally the “straw that broke the camel’s back”, as aggressively tries to convince his wife of the merit of his choice, and instead wines up crying against a pecan tree. O’Connor does creates this dismal, self-absorbed character to illustrate the pitfalls of vanity. From what we have read in the tattoo unit, vanity seems to be the last element that should be associated with the sincere and meaningful lifestyle of the tattoo.