Hector Tobar's The Tattooed Soldier: A Short Analysis
Hector Tobar’s The Tattooed Soldier is a gripping novel that describes the experience of a Guatemalan immigrant trying to survive in Los Angeles. His narrative follows two men, Antonio and Longoria. Both men are living in Los Angeles, but have very different lifestyles in America. For both of them, Los Angeles seemed to be a land of dreams, like they saw in the movies. For Antonio, the harsh reality of Los Angeles sets in. It is a place that promises more than it can deliver. Through this novel, Tobar is showing his reader that no place is perfect and that for immigrants in America, life can be difficult because of the inequalities.
The soldier, Guillermo Longoria, first dreamed of America when he young and saw the movie, E.T.:
The suburb on the movie screen seemed to Guillermo more like a playground than a neighborhood…he had never seen a movie with a house like this, room after room filled with televisions and toys…It made sense that the Extra-Terrestrial would go to the United States. He would never come to Guatemala to be cooped up inside a little adobe house… (34)
To Longoria, America was a place that was more appealing than Guatemala—a richer place with appliances and opportunities. He later thinks, “If I were in that house I would feel like E.T., like some small creature in a far-off world, making sounds no one understood ” (34). However, his experience in America is very different. He almost immediately finds job because of his military experience and is comfortable enough in this environment to survive and have his own home. He is even proud enough to yell at the homeless and complain about the dirtiness of Los Angeles: “He would not be swallowed by the uncleanliness around him. This place, this Los Angeles, is a cloud of filth, even the sky is muddy brown… no one in Los Angeles seemed to care about trespassing, about people breaking the law” (34). Longoria’s experience in LA is very different from Antonio’s, who cannot find a job that is not degrading.
In the first section of this novel, Antonio is being evicted from his apartment for not being able to pay rent. He and his friend are homeless and try to find shelter. They soon discover that they are not alone—that others are without the means to survive in this vicious city. “This was something new. He did not know that gringos could be refugees. These gringos don’t deserve this ” (41). Antonio begins to notice that it isn’t simply an immigrant’s problem.
The hope that Los Angeles brings to many people is often shot down. Before, Antonio believed what most do about the place that Faulkner called the “Golden Land”: “When he first came to Los Angeles, Antonio thought of it as the place where he would redeem himself, undertake a new beginning. He remembered the feeling of tempered hope when he arrived at the airport” (51). Because of his high expectations, he was disappointed to learn that life was much more difficult in the city.
“It was a fact of like that when you came to the United States you moved down in social station and professional responsibilities. Women with medical degrees became laboratory assistants, accountants became ditch diggers.” (51)
Because of the social inequalities in America, immigrants have a difficult time assimilating into the culture. At the same time, however, people like Longoria can find a way to survive because of the diversity of Los Angeles.