Tattoos on the Heart

Tattoos on the Heart Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
David is a teenaged kid who works for the Homeboy center. One day, he walks into Boyle’s office and claims he knows someone who finds Boyle’s public lectures “monotonous.” David laughs and admits this isn’t true—he just needs practice using bigger words.
David and Boyle’s interaction is playful and full of gentle teasing.
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Boyle knows a teenager named Omar. Omar, a former gang member, asks Boyle how many people he’s buried altogether “because of gangbanging.” At this point in Boyle’s career, the answer is seventy-five. Omar is shocked. He whispers, “When’s it gonna end?” Boyle replies, “It will end the minute … you decide.” Change, Boyle concludes, awaits us.
Boyle believes that the best way to prevent gang violence is to convince people in the community to change their behavior and their outlook on life. If the people of the Dolores Mission develop more self-respect, and learn to treat each other more respectfully, then perhaps gang violence will go down. One could also argue that Boyle’s philosophy doesn’t address the concrete, economic causes of crime.
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At a Mass held in prison for a dead gang member, Boyle meets a gang member named Grumpy. Boyle gives Grumpy his card and offers to remove Grumpy’s tattoos for free when Grumpy gets out of jail. Grumpy sneers and says, “Why’d I get ‘em if I’m just gonna take ‘em off?” Boyle, unfazed, tells Grumpy to call him when he pulls his head out of his butt. A couple months later, Boyle runs into Grumpy as a basketball game, and Grumpy tells Boyle he’s ready to remove his tattoos.
The passage establishes the importance of patience. Boyle knows that gang members will eventually ask him for help, even if they initially act tough, and claim they’ll never remove their tattoos. Boyle is willing to be patient because he believes that all people have an innate desire to be good—sooner or later, he believes, they’re likely to come around.
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Waiting is a central part of Boyle’s career, but he wasn’t always good at it. He remembers a teenager named Leo, with whom he worked years ago. Boyle spends a lot of time trying to find job interviews for Leo. But one night, he witnesses Leo “making a sale.” Leo notices Boyle watching, and later seems ashamed. Boyle points out that he’s learned something: just because he wants Leo to have a certain kind of life won’t make Leo want that life. But then, a couple months later, Leo calls Boyle and tells him he’s ready for that peaceful, law-abiding life. He now works as a supervisor at an animal shelter.
Although he doesn’t say so explicitly, Boyle strongly implies that he sees Leo involved in the sale of drugs. For many in impoverished parts of Los Angeles, selling drugs is one of the few reliable careers, despite the fact that it’s illegal. However, Leo’s life would seem to uphold Boyle’s earlier point: if given enough time, people will realize that they want to live good, moral lives.
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Boyle remembers the death of a gang member named Psycho. Thirty days after the death, Psycho’s friends wanted to hold a small ceremony to mark his absence. Boyle attends the ceremony, and witnesses hardened gang members sobbing for their friend. One member, Carlos, tells Boyle that Psycho had a premonition of his own death. Carlos has organized the fundraisers and carwashes to pay for Psycho’s funeral. Boyle praises him for “taking care of everything.”
Notice that hardened gang members weep for Psycho at Psycho’s funeral. Furthermore, Carlos makes it clear that he wants to do the right thing on his friend’s behalf. In all, the passage emphasizes Boyle’s point about how all human beings are capable of feeling a deep sense of compassion.
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Some gang members get trapped in cycles of despair. But Boyle can remember one gang member, named Joey, who found a way to be hopeful. One day, Joey confesses to Boyle that he’s started working at the children’s theme restaurant Chuck E. Cheese. He’s ashamed of taking the job, but he wants to provide for his son, who’ll be born in two months.
Joey takes what many would consider an embarrassing job, but he does so for a moral, even noble, reason—supporting his family. Boyle applauds Joey for doing so.
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Another former gang member, Bugsy, asks Boyle to buy him shoes. Boyle agrees, but tells Bugsy a story. In the story, an incarcerated gang member calls Homeboy Industries, and a former member of a rival gang answers the phone. The incarcerated gang member angrily asks the former gang member where he’s from. Instead of yelling back, the former gang member passes the phone to his associate. Boyle asks Bugsy which character from the story behaved better—Bugsy immediately answers that the former gang member did, since he avoided a fight. Boyle agrees. But then he reminds Bugsy: the incarcerated gang member in the story was Bugsy. Bugsy winces and says, “I sorta thought that’s where this story was goin’.”
In this section, Boyle gets Bugsy to admit that he did something wrong without ever actually saying so himself. While the passage is pretty funny, it also communicates a serious point. Bugsy knows that he did wrong, and has no problem communicating this to Boyle. Instead of criticizing Bugsy for his behavior, Boyle waits for Bugsy to admit his own wrongdoing. In this way, Boyle gives Bugsy an opportunity to grow morally.
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One day, Boyle gets some bad news: two former gang members who work with Homeboy Industries got into a turf conflict. Frightened, they fired their weapons, and in the ensuing gunfire, a bullet shattered some glass and cut the face of a mother who’s working in Boyle’s school. Boyle tracks down the two people responsible—their names are Bear and Johnny, and they look like guilty children. Boyle informs them that the woman is going to be okay. Then, furiously, he tells Johnny the full truth; the woman Johnny inadvertently injured was his own mother.
This is one of the most emotional passages in the book, and it’s also a tragic example of how gang violence tears apart entire communities, and hurts everyone—even the gang members themselves. Notice that Boyle never criticizes Bear and Johnny explicitly; instead, he just tells them the truth, leaving them to stew in their own shame. In doing so, Boyle gives them the opportunity to recognize that they’ve done something wrong and vow to be better.
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In the Bible, it says that love is patient and love is kind. Even though Boyle has heard these words recited thousands of times, he pays special attention one day at Mass when he hears a kid read them. The kid speaks so sincerely that Boyle can’t help but believe him. Boyle has total faith in the power of love to transform people and therefore transform society.
Even though Boyle has been studying Christianity for his entire life, he continues to believe it with a fierce passion and to be surprised by the force and meaning of its teachings. Biblical teachings never bore him—rather, they continue to inspire him to lead a moral life.
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Boyle recalls a former gang member named Pedro, who currently works for him as a case manager. Years before, Pedro began using drugs heavily. With Boyle’s encouragement, he entered a rehab program. During his time in the program, his brother committed suicide. Pedro was devastated, but he didn’t allow his pain to cause another cycle of addiction. Later on, Pedro confesses to Boyle that “Light is better than darkness”—his brother just never found the light.
Boyle recognizes that people in the Dolores Mission sometimes turn to drugs (or crime) because of their deep sense of despair. However, Boyle also knows that people have the willpower and the innate goodness to choose to “come into the light” and be good Christians.
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