In the introduction of Ellis’ book, “Tattooing the World”, we learn that the first man to display his tattoos in the United States is a man named James F. O’Connell. Ellis brings up a very interesting thought, considering O’Connell was not from the United States, it was difficult to read the stories being told on his body through tattoo: the language is different, the symbols are unknown. It would take a reader that was literate in Pacific design tattoo to be able to read, analyze, and know the stories being told on his body. O’Connell went around the United States exhibiting his body and telling the stories himself. Ellis says that his tattoos “mean what O’Connell says they mean.”
This realization stems outside of different cultures and languages, though. In Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “Parker’s Back”, O.E. Parker went and got a huge image of God drawn on his back. While, many of us know and understand God, we do not know the story his tattoo is telling. Although, we understand the language and the drawing of God, there is still a personal story behind his decision to have this inked on his back. This is a very important aspect in understanding a tattoo. O.E. Park could have received this tattoo for many of reasons, e.g. religion, a memory of somebody, spur of the moment, a bet; it could be for any reason. Without reading O’Connor’s story we would never know that it was the start of his conversion. He originally did it to impress his wife, leaving him at a tree being beaten yearning for something else in life: some peace and happiness in his marriage and some peace and happiness in his life as a whole. He looked to God for the improvement.
While we may not be able to interpret and know the stories behind tattoos while they’re inscribed in another language or a culture that we’re not familiar with, we also may not know the stories behind a tattoo inscribed in our own culture and language. Everybody tattoos their body for different reasoning whether it is cultural norms or personal reasons. You cannot read a person’s body like a book without them telling the story, because it is exactly as Ellis explains, it means what they say it means.