Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Tattoo the Wicked Cross is an important novel because it deals with universal themes of honor, faith, good and evil, survival, and identity. Much of the fiction by Latinos and Chicanos during the 1960’s deals with their experiences with authority figures such as the police, the church, schools, and parents. Fiction of that period also addresses issues of poverty, insufficient social and health services, lack of education, and discrimination. Although Salas’s novel touches on some of these concerns, he has concentrated on the environmental factors that send young people to prison and what happens to those youths while they are incarcerated. Salas’s novel speaks eloquently and graphically about the injustices of the penal system, especially as it concerns youthful offenders. Placing them in prisons does not rehabilitate them; it corrupts them. It turns youths into incorrigibles unfit for society.

Salas’s book gives the reader a glimpse of the penal system that destroys youth. He speaks from some of his own experiences in a youth camp. Since publication of his books, there has been a movement to treat youthful offenders with an eye toward rehabilitation rather than punishment. Perhaps Salas’s book has influenced some members of the penal and judicial system.

Tattoo the Wicked Cross, Salas’s first published novel, set him apart from other Latino and Chicano writers of the time. The novel set the tone of his writing,...

(The entire section is 435 words.)