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A Review of Tattoos on The Heart, a Novel by Gregory Boyle

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Why do readers find the narratives of gang intervention in Gregory Boyle’s 2010 novel, “Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion,” credible? I decided to focus on this book since it has been a popular read amongst students, especially those here at Cal State Los Angeles. I also wanted to understand what makes Greg Boyle credible. Whether it be through his actions or who he is, what factors play into it? Why can he write a whole book on this topic? Since humans are storytellers I want to understand what makes his story believable. Through this essay I will be answering those questions by describing, analyzing, and applying the narrative methodology onto my artifact.

Boyle’s novel is a mix of a memoir and short stories. As the leader of the Dolores Mission Church in Los Angeles, Boyle first handedly encounters issues such as gang violence and the misguided. Instead of treating them like ‘lepers’ he treats them with dignity and respect by providing resources such as jobs, education, and even tattoo removals. “We provide all of this, free of charge. We are a worksite and therapeutic community. We are a training program and business. We are all of the above all at the same time.” (Boyle) Short stories, musicals, and movies were some of the other choices but I had read the book last semester and thought it would be an interesting example for the criticism. By using David Rhoads’ article “Narrative Criticism and the Gospel of Mark,” I was able to find a source that explicates the narrative methodology to a similar artifact.

When applying the methodology to this artifact I decided to use the three steps found in the book. In Step 1 – Form Identification, I identified the characters, types, setting, and what it represents. Father Greg Boyle (hero: protagonist), the homies (victims: supporting characters), and Los Angeles as the place in which the narrative was set in. Los Angeles provided a cultural background for the reader to picture since it has been depicted as gang territory. Step 2 – Functional Analysis asked if the narrative energizes the audience, created a sense of identification, transports the audience, and if it taps into basic values/needs. “No other contemporary Los Angeles writer has so deftly captured the expressive flavor of the distinctive Spanglish patois spoken by the young people of East L.A. That alone makes “Tattoos on the Heart” remarkable literature. But something more is accomplished: An entire community made invisible by the wider city’s indifference and distaste comes urgently to life on these pages.” (Rutten) This book review helped answer the questions above since it is based on a reader view on the literature, identifies the “flavors” of East L.A, and taps into the need of representation. Step 3 – Linking Formal/Functional Analysis, focused on elements, functions, and credibility for the audience. “Tattoos on the Heart” was a compelling read due to the contents of the book. The story of multiple gang members and their second attempt at a better life pulls at the heartstrings and induces certain emotions that a narrative should have. Since Father Greg Boyle talks about his history and how he got into Homeboy Industries in the first place, I could see where he was coming from and believe his story due to the many years in service he has been in.

In Rhoads’ “Narrative Criticism and the Gospel of Mark,” I saw similarities to how I took on the criticism. He poses the question using a similar form, “What do literarily critics of narratives, such as Wayne Booth, look for when they delight in the “one good reading of one good passage”? (Rhoads) He then goes on to examining narrative features such as plot, characters, implied author, and implied reader. Rhoads uses the Gospel of Mark as his artifact and goes into shifts, explaining and analyzing each section to further illustrate his point. “The first shift involved moving towards an emphasis on the unity of narrative… the other shift emphasizes the integrity… this shift grasps the autonomy of the story world function…” (Rhoads) I also decided to use Walter R. Fisher’s essay on narratives as another standard of judgement for my method. Through this essay Fisher talks about the narrative paradigm, human communication, and how it is an alternative view. “By paradigm I refer to a representation designed to formalize a structure of a component experience and to direct understanding and inquiry into the nature and functions of that experience.” (Fisher) Some limitations to my study was that not all people would like the book. People have different tastes in narrative types and might prefer one over the other and that maybe it was too “new” of an artifact to focus on.

Overall I analyzed what makes Gregory Boyle and his book credible. By describing the book, I gave a small basis to what the artifact was about. I then go onto analyzing the book by using three steps to figure out if it fits the narrative criticism and if it gives credibility to the author himself. After analyzing I decided to compare my criticism to other related sources such as Rhoads criticism and Fisher’s essay on narratives. Through looking at this novel with a narrative lens I had a better understanding on the methodology and book.

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A Review of Tattoos on the Heart, a Novel by Gregory Boyle. (2018, July 31). GradesFixer. Retrieved August 16, 2022, from
“A Review of Tattoos on the Heart, a Novel by Gregory Boyle.” GradesFixer, 31 Jul. 2018,
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