(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Floyd Salas’s Tattoo the Wicked Cross takes place in a boys’ prison farm. The novel is divided into ten parts. As Aaron D’Aragon enters the prison, he sees its sign: Golden Gate Institute of Industry and Reform. The prison looks almost like a cemetery, and the entrance resembles the “pearly gates” of heaven. Aaron has been sent to prison for gang fighting. The story encompasses approximately six months and shows the changes that Aaron goes through during that time. He changes from an idealistic, religious youth who believes in God and honor to one who learns that to survive he must change and learn a different code of honor. He learns that in prison there is a code that must be followed: One does not snitch, and one takes care of oneself.

Aaron is apprehensive when he arrives at the prison. His good friend Barneyway is in prison, and Aaron is looking forward to seeing him. Part 1 is titled “Dead Time,” referring to the stage of a prison sentence during which an inmate is not yet acclimated to prison life. Aaron is placed in a cell with a limited view of the prison and other inmates. He hears people but cannot see them, and his food is brought to him. While in this cell, he discovers that someone has carved a heart with the message Richie De La Cruz + Eva, Richard of the Cross and Eve. Along with the heart is a pachuco cross with three lines, suggesting rays of light emanating from it. From his initial contacts with other inmates, he learns about prison and also learns he must be cautious, especially when inquiring about his friend Barneyway.

In part 2 “Buddies and Bad Actor,” he learns that Buzzer rules the prison ruthlessly and brutally and that he sodomizes whomever he wishes....

(The entire section is 731 words.)

Tattoo the Wicked Cross Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Bruce-Novoa, Juan. Chicano Authors: Inquiry by Interview. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1980. In the introduction, Bruce-Novoa examines the position that Salas’s novels hold within Chicano literature. The book as a whole offers a good perspective on Chicano literature and the concerns of Chicano writers.

Haslam, Gerald. Forgotten Pages of American Literature. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970. The section titled “Viva La Raza: Latino American Literature” offers a good commentary on Salas’s work within the framework of Chicano literature. Haslam discussed the problem of placing a Spanish American writer with Chicano writers even though the main character in Tattoo the Wicked Cross is depicted as a Chicano.

McKenna, Teresa. “Three Novels: An Analysis.” Aztlán 1 (Fall, 1970): 48-49. McKenna’s analysis includes three writers: Richard Vasquez, Raymond Barrio, and Floyd Salas. Her analysis includes Salas’s Tattoo the Wicked Cross, which she sees as concerning rites of passage. She also does an analysis of language use to show Aaron D’Aragon’s inward perception. A good analysis for the reader who wishes to see how Salas uses language to develop the character.

Salas, Floyd. Buffalo Nickel: A Memoir. Houston: Arte Publico Press, 1992. An eloquent and revealing...

(The entire section is 410 words.)