As Mike pointed out earlier, Wendt's short story, "The Cross of Soot," is a coming-of-age tale of a young boy who receives his first tattoo. The way in which Wendt narrates the story (third person limited) allows the reader to know the thoughts of the boy and observe the events that occur at the prison through the boy’s simple and childlike eyes. Only the boy’s simple yet gentle questioning is able to soften the prisoners and his keen observance of dynamics and undertones of the adults allows us to see the softer side of these men as well. The beginning of the novel displays how the boy breaks into what could have been the jaded and hostile atmosphere of the prison with genuine concern for the men and innocuous, simple naivete. This in turn, allows the prisoners to care for him in return.
As it is clear that the boy has the innocence and curiosity that is unique to children, it is no wonder that only he relates to the “stranger” at the end of the story, who he later describes as Jesus. Jesus in the Gospel clearly says “Unless you become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” which shows that the beautiful, unbiased and kind way that the boy approached the prisoners and the stranger particularly is the way of Jesus, the way of the Kingdom of God. The boy receives a permanent mark from the stranger in the form of a tattoo of a cross. The cross on the boy’s hand juxtaposed with the ensuing death and name of “Jesus” of the stranger implies that in some way, the man passed on his own cross to the boy. The boy feels changed after he meets the man and receives the tattoo because he has accepted the painful cross of humanity, the same cross of Jesus Christ.
This alternative view of Christ and the tattoo of the cross makes even more sense in the context of understanding the meaning of the tattoo in the Samoan culture that Wendt speaks of in his second article “Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body.” As Wendt says, the imprint of the tattoo is shows that you have triumphed over physical pain and are now ready to face the demands of life” (400). This idea of conquering pain from the tattoo mirrors the idea that Christ, too, had to suffer and die in pain on the cross to conquer sin and death of mankind.