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Parker notices a tattooed man at fair, where he became inspired to get tattoos. The man’s tattoos are of “beasts and flowers,” (384) full of “intricate design of brilliant color” (384), as they represent an Eden that Parker cannot have. Parker’s response to the man’s tattoos can never be replicated; Parker always feels dissatisfaction with his own tattoos. The man’s tattoos seemed to be alive and have “a subtle motion” (384), and Parker is never able to experience the emotion he felt when looking at the man’s tattoos, as if he can never experience Eden again. On the other hand, Parker’s tattoos seem to represent something entirely different. The serpent on Parker’s arm represents the wrongs he has done, and with the serpent on his arm, Parker cannot truly experience the religious and spiritual satisfaction that his wife does. This biblical allusion of Eden and the serpent shows that Parker has struggled to find peace, and has had a troubled life.
As a tattoo-clad high school dropout, a dishonorably discharged ex-navy, and a heavy drinker, O.E. Parker is a failure. His soul is a “spider web of facts and lies,” (393) and compared to his devout wife, he is a failure in religion because of his lack of faith. Parker detests his own wife, calling her “plain,” (382) but he still stays with his wife, an action that caused him to be “puzzled and ashamed of himself” (382). Perhaps the real reason he is staying with his wife is that she “had married him because she meant to save him,” (382) and Parker is waiting to be saved. Sarah knows that O.E. Parker’s real name, Obadiah Elihue, is significant when she says it out loud in “a reverent voice” (387).
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Parker experiences a divine intervention, and even this intervention is a biblical allusion to Moses and the burning of the bush. After this instance, Parker has a newfound belief in God, as Parker yells “GOD ABOVE,” (388) and rushes to the city to get God tattooed on his back. After their divine intervention, both Moses and Parker returned to God; however, in the end, both are unable to be completely free, as Parker is unsuccessful with his wife and Moses never reaches the Promised Land. When Parker enters the tattoo artist’s shop, he is frantic and “washes his back,” (390) just as Pilate washed his hands, as an effort to rid him of whatever wrongs he had done in the past. When Parker finally identifies himself as Obadiah, he catches a glimpse of Eden again, as he feels his soul turning into an “arabesque of colors, a garden of trees and birds and beasts” (394). His relief is short-lived; however, when his wife beats him with a broom, forming large welts on the tattooed Jesus. Parker looses his brief connection to God, and is reduced to helpless man “leaning against the tree, crying like a baby,” (394) and a complete failure.