One of the main things I noticed in “The Cross of Soot” that I have also been focusing on throughout the semester, especially last class when we talked about the comparison between children and adults in terms of imagination, is the idea of travel through time or through one’s own life. I have been thinking a lot about how even though you are one person in one body, your perspective changes as much as your body does as you progress through life. I think that one’s position in life, in regards to class, gender, race, etc., but also in terms of age and maturity, have a huge impact on one’s perspective.
In “The Cross of Soot,” the characters are described by their ages, and are even referred to as “the old man” or “the boy” which are both indicators of age and position in life (10). This story struck me as being fairly straightforwardly a coming of age story, but I think that it adds another level to that story, the layers through which one can come into understanding of some things and remain innocent to others or through which one can desire to come into an understanding that might not be what those who are older think is best for that person.
By the end of the story, the boy has a tattoo of a cross on his hand, and his mother notices that “he had changed, grown up” and that “for the first time, her son was no longer afraid to stare straight at her when she was angry with him” (20). This speaks to a type of equality between parent and child. Not cowering when your parents are angry with you is a sign that you view yourself as being at the same level as them; at the very least, some of the fear that you had previously associated with an angry parent has dissipated. The last word of the story is “proudly,” which also shows a new level of maturity on the part of the boy (20). He has, we assume, defied his mother by getting this tattoo in the prison yard, on a completely spontaneous whim, and yet he is able to hold his hand up proudly. The connection with Christ and the cross also presents an interesting dimension to his growth, because of connotations with coming of age in the Church with First Communion and Confirmation, and even Baptism ceremonies. This tattoo seems to be symbolic of some type of religious ceremony that one would undergo to prove adulthood in the Church. Similarly, many people get tattoos to prove to themselves or others that they have reached a point of adulthood. For some, this is that they have literally reached the legal point of adulthood, and these people may get tattooed on their 18th birthdays. Others may feel that graduating college, getting married, having children, or reaching another milestone is worthy of a tattoo; all of these life events are seen as steps toward or within adulthood.
However, though the boy is described as being more adult by the end of the story, there does seem to be much that he does not know. The boy who sneaks into the prison yard to speak to the old man does not know what rape is, yet he pretends he does. He wants to feel included in the stories that the men are telling, and he pretends that he has this knowledge that he very clearly does not have. And in another instance, when talking about how Samasoni “crushed that fellow who seduced [his] sister,” the boy wants to know really badly, saying “Tell me, please!” despite Samasoni saying, “He’s too young” (12). There is a sense in these two scenes that all of the men have a collective understanding that there are some things from which we need to protect the innocent and the young, but to what extent do we continue this? It is clear that the boy idolizes Samasoni, wanting to have a tattoo and muscles like his. However, as readers we see that his man is in prison because of a very violent act.
We revere knowledge and wisdom as being these sources that everyone should strive to either consult or become, but I would like to argue for a celebration of youth and of innocence, and an allowance for a gradual entrance into the world of adulthood and maturity. I remember in middle school when we would all rush to find things out from older siblings, older friends, or television shows and movies. We were in such a hurry to move up in the world, into this state of knowing “everything” and feeling a sense of superiority over those who were younger or who were our own age but did not know what we knew. Why is that the case? Why do we not take our time traveling through life, letting it teach us what we need to know along the way?