Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Tattoo the Wicked Cross is a complex novel with many themes and meanings. Ostensibly it is about what happens to a fifteen-year-old delinquent, Aaron D’Aragon, while in a boys’ prison farm. The prison is supposed to teach him to be a “good citizen,” to reform. Aaron and the other boys in prison have a different code of ethics, the ethics of the streets. Salas shows the reader that prison is a dehumanizing place, one that offers corruption instead of the promised rehabilitation. When Aaron enters prison, he is an “innocent” boy who still has beliefs and a sense of right and wrong. He soon realizes that he cannot hold on to his ideals. His good friend Barneyway is also in prison, and Aaron is eager to see him. He remembers Barneyway as a tough gang member but Aaron soon learns that he was not tough enough to withstand the brutality of Buzzer. Barneyway falls victim to Buzzer and thus to the system that created this cruel person.

Another theme is the loss of faith. Aaron tries to pray as he has been taught and tries to remain true to his Catholic faith. When he is beaten and violated by Buzzer and his gang, a dilemma develops. How can he remain true to his faith, which does not allow retaliation? How does one remain nonviolent in a violent world? Aaron finds it impossible to abide by his old moral code and makes a decision to take vengeance on his tormentors. Aaron poisons his tormentors, forsaking his faith and becoming a mass...

(The entire section is 494 words.)