Tattoos on the Heart


Gregory Boyle

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Tattoos on the Heart Themes

Themes and Colors
Kinship Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
Gangs and Gang Violence Theme Icon
The Outcast Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Tattoos on the Heart, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.


In Tattoos on the Heart, Father Gregory Boyle devotes a lot of time to outlining the principles that have guided him across his long career. The most important of those principles is kinship. Simply defined, kinship is the state of being intimately connected to other people—of loving them and being unconditionally loyal to them. Boyle tries to show kinship throughout the book to set an example for others, mainly through welcoming anyone into his…

read analysis of Kinship


Father Gregory Boyle is tolerant of many different cultures, lifestyles, and religions. Nevertheless, he advances the argument that a good life, characterized by kinship and compassion for others, is only possible if one worships God and accepts Jesus Christ.

In almost every chapter of Tattoos on the Heart, Boyle makes comparisons between episodes from his life and episodes from the life of Jesus Christ. Boyle certainly isn’t suggesting that he’s a modern-day Jesus—rather, he’s…

read analysis of Christianity

Gangs and Gang Violence

In the Dolores Mission neighborhood of Los Angeles where Father Gregory Boyle works, violence is a constant danger—the city has a long history of racial discrimination, police brutality, and drug trafficking. Boyle argues that people join gangs not because they’re inherently violent people, but because they don’t see themselves as having any good alternative to the supposed security and emotional support that gangs and gang culture provide. While Boyle doesn’t give an “insider’s look” at…

read analysis of Gangs and Gang Violence
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The Outcast

One of the most important words that Father Gregory Boyle uses in Tattoos on the Heart is “outcast.” Boyle uses this word to describe most of the people who attend his church in the Dolores Mission, as well as the people whom his nonprofit, Homeboy Industries, employs. He doesn’t use the word in a prejudicial sense—rather, he’s just stating a fact: the majority of society has rejected these people, refusing to give them employment, friendship…

read analysis of The Outcast