In Buried Onions by Gary Soto, what is the symbolism of Coach's tattoo? 

In Buried Onions by Gary Soto, what is the symbolism of Coach's tattoo?

 

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mercut1469 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One day, Eddie, José and Coach escape the sweltering summer heat of Fresno and go to what Coach claims is a "secret creek" to go fishing. It is a break from the poverty and antagonism which each character deals with in his everyday life in the city. After fishing for a while, Coach suggests they go swimming, and is quickly naked and jumping into the creek. On his back is a tattoo reading "THE GOOD SHEPHERD." It is most certainly a religious allusion to either Psalm 23, which compares God to a shepherd, or to Jesus's parable about the good shepherd in the Gospel of John. In these biblical stories, a shepherd looks after and protects his flock. It is a metaphor for God looking after those who believe in him. In John 10:11 it says, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep."

This seems to sum up Coach's life as the caretaker, coach and advisor for the children and teens who come to Holmes playground in downtown Fresno. Coach grew up in the same neighborhood where he now works and has experienced the same problems that Eddie and José contend with in the Mexican ghetto. He seems to feel it his mission to protect the kids who frequent his playground. He provides trusted advice to Eddie and acts as a negotiator with Mr. Stiles in getting Eddie's job back. He also advises Eddie to join the military, which is ultimately where Eddie ends up. The tattoo is symbolic of the care and sympathy he feels for his "flock" of poor kids and want-to-be gangsters that need his maturity and steadiness.