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Home » Parsing the Symbolism: A Literary Analysis of Flannery O’Connor’s Parker’s Back

Parsing the Symbolism: A Literary Analysis of Flannery O’Connor’s Parker’s Back

Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Parker’s Back” is a complex work of literature that is rich in symbolism. The story follows the life of a man named Parker who is covered in tattoos and becomes obsessed with getting a tattoo of God on his back. This article will delve into the various symbols present in the story and explore the deeper meanings behind them. Through a literary analysis of “Parker’s Back,” we can gain a better understanding of O’Connor’s themes and the message she is trying to convey.

Background of Flannery O’Connor

Flannery O’Connor was an American writer known for her unique style of Southern Gothic literature. Born in Savannah, Georgia in 1925, O’Connor grew up in a devout Catholic family and attended Catholic schools throughout her childhood. Her faith played a significant role in her writing, as she often explored themes of sin, redemption, and grace in her stories. O’Connor’s work was heavily influenced by her Southern upbringing and the rural landscapes of Georgia and her family’s farm in Milledgeville. She published two novels and numerous short stories before her death at the age of 39 from lupus. Despite her short career, O’Connor’s writing has had a lasting impact on American literature and continues to be studied and analyzed today.

Parker’s Back: Overview

Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Parker’s Back” is a complex exploration of identity, faith, and the search for meaning. The story follows the life of O.E. Parker, a man covered in tattoos who is searching for something to fill the void in his life. As he navigates his relationships with his wife, Sarah Ruth, and his obsession with getting a new tattoo, Parker is forced to confront the limitations of his own understanding of himself and the world around him. Through rich symbolism and vivid imagery, O’Connor creates a powerful meditation on the human condition and the struggle to find meaning in a chaotic and uncertain world.

Symbolism of Tattoos

Tattoos have been a form of self-expression for centuries, and their symbolism can vary greatly depending on the individual and their culture. In Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Parker’s Back,” the protagonist’s tattoos hold significant meaning and serve as a reflection of his inner turmoil. The tattoo of a Byzantine Christ on Parker’s back represents his desire for spiritual fulfillment, while the tattoo of his wife’s name on his chest symbolizes his failed attempts at love and connection. Through Parker’s tattoos, O’Connor explores themes of identity, religion, and the search for meaning in a chaotic world.

Religious Imagery

Flannery O’Connor’s use of religious imagery in “Parker’s Back” is both subtle and powerful. Throughout the story, O’Connor weaves in references to Christianity and the Bible, creating a rich tapestry of symbolism that adds depth and meaning to the narrative. From the tattoo of the Byzantine Christ on Parker’s back to the image of the burning bush, O’Connor’s use of religious imagery is both complex and thought-provoking. By exploring the ways in which O’Connor uses these symbols, readers can gain a deeper understanding of the story’s themes and messages.

The Role of Grace

In Flannery O’Connor’s “Parker’s Back,” the role of grace is central to the story’s themes and symbolism. Throughout the narrative, the protagonist, Parker, struggles with a sense of emptiness and dissatisfaction in his life. He seeks fulfillment through tattoos, but ultimately realizes that they are not enough to satisfy his longing for something greater. It is through a chance encounter with a religious woman that Parker begins to understand the concept of grace and its transformative power. As he undergoes a spiritual awakening, Parker’s tattoos take on new meaning and become symbols of his journey towards redemption. The role of grace in “Parker’s Back” highlights O’Connor’s belief in the transformative power of faith and the importance of spiritual growth in one’s life.

Irony and Satire

Irony and satire are two literary devices that Flannery O’Connor expertly employs in her short story “Parker’s Back.” The story is filled with ironic situations and satirical commentary on religion and society. One example of irony is the fact that Parker, who is covered in tattoos, is married to a devoutly religious woman who believes tattoos are a sin. This irony highlights the disconnect between Parker’s outward appearance and his wife’s beliefs. O’Connor also uses satire to critique the hypocrisy of religious institutions. The character of the preacher, who is more concerned with the appearance of his church than the spiritual well-being of his congregation, is a prime example of this. Through her use of irony and satire, O’Connor creates a thought-provoking and entertaining story that challenges readers to question their own beliefs and values.

The Significance of Names

In Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Parker’s Back,” the significance of names plays a crucial role in the development of the protagonist’s character. The main character, Parker, is known by his last name throughout the story, emphasizing his lack of identity and individuality. However, when he meets his wife, Sarah Ruth, she insists on calling him by his first name, Obadiah, which holds biblical significance as the name of a prophet. This name change marks a turning point in Parker’s life as he begins to search for a deeper meaning and purpose. The symbolism of names in “Parker’s Back” highlights the importance of identity and the search for meaning in one’s life.

Parker’s Transformation

In Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Parker’s Back,” the protagonist, O.E. Parker, undergoes a transformation that is both physical and spiritual. At the beginning of the story, Parker is covered in tattoos, which he sees as a way to express his individuality and rebellion against society. However, as the story progresses, Parker begins to realize the emptiness of his life and the superficiality of his tattoos.

This realization is symbolized by the appearance of a mysterious woman with a Byzantine Christ tattoo on her back. Parker becomes obsessed with the tattoo and sees it as a symbol of something greater than himself. He becomes determined to have the tattoo on his own back, believing that it will bring him closer to God.

The transformation is completed when Parker finally gets the tattoo and experiences a spiritual awakening. He realizes that his previous way of life was empty and meaningless, and that the tattoo is a symbol of his newfound faith. The tattoo also serves as a reminder of his past mistakes and the need for redemption.

Overall, Parker’s transformation in “Parker’s Back” is a powerful symbol of the human desire for meaning and purpose in life. Through his journey, O’Connor shows that true transformation can only come from a deep spiritual awakening and a willingness to confront one’s own flaws and mistakes.

The Influence of Southern Gothic Literature

Southern Gothic literature has had a profound influence on American literature and culture. This genre is characterized by its use of grotesque and macabre themes, as well as its exploration of the dark side of human nature. Flannery O’Connor is one of the most prominent writers of Southern Gothic literature, and her short story “Parker’s Back” is a prime example of the genre. In this story, O’Connor uses symbolism to explore themes of identity, religion, and redemption. Through the character of Parker, O’Connor shows how the search for identity can lead to a deeper understanding of oneself and one’s place in the world. The use of religious imagery in the story also highlights the importance of faith and spirituality in Southern Gothic literature. Overall, O’Connor’s “Parker’s Back” is a powerful example of the influence of Southern Gothic literature on American culture and literature.

The Use of Color

In Flannery O’Connor’s “Parker’s Back,” the use of color plays a significant role in the symbolism of the story. The color white, for example, is used to represent purity and innocence, while black represents sin and darkness. The protagonist, Parker, is covered in tattoos, which are described as “a blue and green and red and black whirlpool” on his skin. This chaotic mix of colors represents Parker’s inner turmoil and the confusion he feels about his identity. As the story progresses, Parker becomes obsessed with getting a tattoo of the face of Christ on his back, which he believes will bring him closer to God. The use of color in this scene is particularly striking, as the tattoo artist uses only black ink to create the image of Christ’s face. This choice of color reinforces the idea that Parker sees himself as a sinner in need of redemption, and that the face of Christ represents a way for him to find salvation. Overall, the use of color in “Parker’s Back” is a powerful tool for conveying the themes of the story and the inner struggles of its characters.

The Importance of Setting

The setting of a story can often be overlooked, but it plays a crucial role in shaping the overall meaning and message of a piece of literature. In Flannery O’Connor’s “Parker’s Back,” the setting is particularly significant in highlighting the themes of identity and spirituality. The story takes place in rural Georgia, where the protagonist, Parker, lives and works as a laborer. The stark contrast between the simplicity of Parker’s surroundings and the complexity of his inner turmoil emphasizes the struggle he faces in finding his true self and connecting with a higher power. Without the specific setting of the story, the themes and symbolism would not be as impactful or meaningful.

The Role of Women in the Story

In Flannery O’Connor’s “Parker’s Back,” the role of women is significant in shaping the story’s themes and symbolism. Sarah Ruth, the protagonist’s wife, represents the religious and conservative values that Parker rebels against. She is portrayed as a strict and judgmental character, who disapproves of Parker’s tattoos and his desire for self-expression.

On the other hand, the tattoo artist, who is also a woman, represents the opposite of Sarah Ruth’s values. She is a free-spirited and unconventional character who encourages Parker to embrace his individuality and express himself through his tattoos.

Through these two female characters, O’Connor explores the themes of conformity and rebellion, tradition and modernity, and the tension between individuality and community. The women in the story serve as foils to Parker’s character, highlighting the different paths he could take in life.

Overall, the role of women in “Parker’s Back” is crucial in shaping the story’s themes and symbolism. They represent different values and perspectives that challenge Parker’s beliefs and force him to confront his own identity and place in society.

The Concept of Identity

The concept of identity is a recurring theme in Flannery O’Connor’s Parker’s Back. The protagonist, O.E. Parker, struggles with his sense of self throughout the story. He is constantly searching for something to fill the void he feels inside, whether it be tattoos or religion. However, he never seems to find true fulfillment until the end of the story when he finally confronts his past and accepts his identity as a flawed human being. O’Connor uses Parker’s journey to explore the complexities of identity and the importance of self-acceptance.

The Theme of Alienation

The theme of alienation is a recurring motif in Flannery O’Connor’s works, and Parker’s Back is no exception. The protagonist, O.E. Parker, is a man who feels disconnected from the world around him. He is alienated from his wife, his community, and even his own body. Parker’s tattoos, which cover his entire back, are a symbol of his attempt to find meaning and belonging in a world that seems to reject him. However, even his tattoos fail to provide him with the sense of connection he craves. In the end, Parker is left alone, with nothing but his own sense of isolation. O’Connor’s use of alienation in Parker’s Back highlights the human need for connection and the consequences of failing to find it.

The Role of Fear

Fear plays a significant role in Flannery O’Connor’s “Parker’s Back.” The protagonist, O.E. Parker, is driven by fear throughout the story. He fears his wife, who is domineering and controlling, and he fears the unknown. This fear leads him to make impulsive decisions, such as getting a tattoo of a Byzantine Christ on his back, which he believes will protect him from harm. However, this fear also prevents him from truly connecting with others and finding meaning in his life. It is only when he confronts his fear and faces the unknown that he is able to find redemption and a sense of purpose. Thus, fear serves as a powerful symbol in the story, representing both the limitations and potential of human nature.

The Role of Pain

In Flannery O’Connor’s Parker’s Back, pain plays a significant role in the development of the protagonist, Parker. Throughout the story, Parker experiences physical and emotional pain, which ultimately leads to his spiritual awakening. The pain he endures serves as a catalyst for his transformation and allows him to confront his inner demons. O’Connor uses pain as a symbol to represent the struggles and hardships that individuals must face in order to achieve personal growth and enlightenment. Through Parker’s journey, O’Connor highlights the importance of pain in shaping one’s identity and understanding of the world around them.

The Role of Redemption

The concept of redemption is a recurring theme in Flannery O’Connor’s works, and “Parker’s Back” is no exception. The story follows the journey of O.E. Parker, a man covered in tattoos who is searching for something to fill the void in his life. Throughout the story, Parker’s obsession with tattoos is portrayed as a form of self-expression and a way to find meaning in his life. However, it is only through his encounter with Sarah Ruth, a strict and religious woman, that Parker begins to understand the true meaning of redemption. Sarah Ruth’s religious beliefs and her insistence on Parker getting a tattoo of Christ on his back ultimately lead to his spiritual awakening and redemption. The role of redemption in “Parker’s Back” highlights the transformative power of faith and the importance of finding meaning and purpose in life.

The Significance of the Ending

The ending of Flannery O’Connor’s “Parker’s Back” is significant in its ambiguity. The story concludes with Parker staring at his new tattoo, which depicts the face of Christ. It is unclear whether Parker has truly found redemption or if he is simply enamored with the artwork. This ambiguity leaves the reader to ponder the true meaning of the story and the nature of Parker’s character. Additionally, the fact that the tattoo artist is never named adds to the mystery and symbolism of the ending. Overall, the ending of “Parker’s Back” leaves a lasting impression on the reader and highlights O’Connor’s skill in crafting complex and thought-provoking narratives.