Man(?) with tattoo of icon of Christ in the Byzantine style on his back.
December 1, 2012


Flannery O’Connor’s story “Parker‘s Back” is about one fifth the length of Faulkner's short that I just finished. The plot revolves around a man, Parker, who is tattooed over most of his body. He is irresponsible, inclined to drunkeness, lying, and other vices. He meets and marries a woman who views his tattoos as a form of idolatry. He is subject to the urge to get tattooed, but he has to see the tattoo once it's done. The only spot left is on his back. Finally he has an experience that fills him with the urge to get tattooed, and he goes into town to get a new one. He decides that his wife cannot reject him or his tattoos any longer if he gets one of the lord on his back. The tattoo is described as a “Byzantine Christ,” so it may have looked something like the picture at top. When he gets home his wife is horrified at the picture, and rejects him even though he is signifying his conversion in the best way that he knows how.

O’Connor viewed the wife as the heretic because she wanted to worship in pure spirit only. The wife would probably cite the prohibition against graven images, and the command to worship God in spirit and in truth as her basis for rejecting the tattoos. Yet a better case could be made that as a result of the Incarnation the command against graven images was modified. God no longer presented Himself so that we saw only His backside, but by means of the Incarnation took on a visible body, so that we could see Him through His son. The images of Christ are ways of seeing into the nature of God. Now there are various councils in Sts. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, and others against attachment to images. I think, perhaps wrongly, that those councils have as much to with attachment to a particular image as to images in general. The images can be mental as well as physical. By denying Parker‘s attempt to present her with an image of Christ as Parker conceives Him to be, one which elicits a deep response from Parker, the wife is denying the reality of Christ both as He was in the past, and as He is now in his glorified form.

Next up is Freud“s case “The Rat-man.”