The Tattooer

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Characterization and conflict are two key scenarios that present themselves in most all literary works. Characterization is a struggle between two opposing forces. Conflict, on the other hand, will always involve the protagonist, and it can either be internal or external. Internal conflict, which is the conflict between person and self, is one that happens within the mind of the protagonist. Instances of internal conflict are whereby a person struggles between right or wrong, or where one has to make a huge decision.

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External conflicts involves the conflict between a person and other external forms: person vs. person, person vs. nature, person vs. society, and person vs. technology.In “The Tattooer” by Tanizaki Jun’ichiro, we see several instances of conflict and characterization. It is a story about a young and talented tattooer called Seikichi. Seikichi is mostly famous because of the physical charm and unrivaled boldness expressed in his art. However, this tattooer drew immeasurable pleasure in inflicting pain on the men who were under his needle ” Deep in his heart the young tatooer concealed a secret pleasure, and a secret desire.

His pleasure lay in the agony men felt as he drove his needles in to them, torturing their swollen, blood-red flesh; and the louder they groaned, the keener was Seikichi strange delight” (Jun’ichiro, p. 80). He particularly enjoyed the color of “vermilioning and shading, which are some of the most painful techniques in tattooing he enjoyed” (Jun’ichiro, p.80). In fact, Seikichi would get the urge to inflict more pain on any man who would appear not to be daunted by his needle. ” Ah you are a stubborn one! But wait soon your body will begin to throb with pain I doubt if you will be able to stand it….” (Jun’ichiro, p. 81).Throughout most of his career, Seikichi had worked on men, but he had always had the desire to create one of his masterpieces ” The Victims” on the skin of a young, beautiful woman.

After couple years, Seikichi finally gets the opportunity to bring his dark desires to reality. However, he realized that the feeling he had when tattooing men were completely different from what he felt when tattooing the woman. While tattooing men, Seikichi did not care about how the art would finally look like; his pleasure was to ensure that the client was in some pain. However, this time around as he was tattooing the young girl roughly about fifteen or sixteen Seikichi felt as if it was his own heart that he was stabbing. He would let out a heavy and sad sigh with every thrust of his needle. We could assume in this case, he was concerned about how his art would finally look like on the beautiful woman’s skin. It seemed like Seikichi would have never had pleasure in inflicting pain on people if all his clients were women. In this part of the story, we see a person-to-self kind of conflict, whereby Seikichi is battling within himself while inflicting pain on the young woman. It is evident that if he could do anything to avoid causing pain to her and still deliver the perfect art, he may have done so. In fact, he resolves to give the woman an anesthetic before he begins on placing a tattoo of a giant spider on her skin.

Another example of person-to-self conflict is when Tanizaki battles with his sensual feelings, which he developed from a young age as he grew up in a blend of new western influences and the old Edo traditions. This urban sophistication resulted in Tanizaki developing an attraction towards women and masochism, and he always sought to portray women as purely nurturing mother or sensual creatures . It is this view that he had about women that made it hard for him to inflict pain on the young woman.Tanizaki’s works are a combination of both sexual, fear of the female power, and the confusing and unending temptation that women pose to men. In “The Tattooer,” Seikichi experiences a person-to-nature sort of conflict when he starts getting attracted to his female client. In the Japanese culture, men were expected to be the stronger beings and to avoid any temptation or eroticism that comes from the members of the opposite sex. However, Seikichi is unable to uphold this, and he ends up inscribing a spider, which is a symbol of evil on the flesh of the beautiful, young women. This action immediately converted the beauty of this woman into a compelling, demonic spirit to which Seikichi gives in, prostrating himself before the woman. Masochism, the confusing mingling of a lurking evil and female beauty, and the artist’s erotic yearnings are the key elements that resulted in the conflicts between self and nature, and the artist ends up surrendering to the former.

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The Tattooer. (2019, Sep 23). Retrieved from