The Tattooed Soldier Summary and Study Guide

Hector Tobar

The Tattooed Soldier

  • 28-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 19 chapter summaries and 6 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a professional writer who specializes in literary analysis
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The Tattooed Soldier Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature.  This 28-page guide for “The Tattooed Soldier” by Hector Tobar includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 19 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 10 important quotes, discussion questions, and key themes like Marking or Being Marked and The Experience of Latino Immigrants.

Plot Summary

Tobar’s novel takes place in Los Angeles during the period leading up to the 1992 Los Angeles riots and primarily deals with the lives of two Guatemalan immigrants. Both men survived the long period of violence and repression that dominated Guatemala for much of the twentieth century. Antonio Bernal was a victim of this period, losing his wife and son, while Guillermo Longoria was a violent soldier who served the government. Despite his role, we learn to feel some sympathy for Longoria as well because as a young child he was kidnapped by the military and pressed into service.

As the novel begins, we experience Antonio’s first days of homelessness. Unable to pay rent, he and his Mexican roommate, José Juan Grijalva, find themselves on the streets. While homeless, Antonio discovers that the man who killed his family is also in Los Angeles. Once he discovers this information, Antonio becomes obsessed with killing Longoria. Throughout the novel, we are confronted with moral dilemmas, such as whether we should sympathize with Longoria, and whether Antonio is right in pursuing and ultimately killing his foe. The drama entangling Antonio and Longoria unfolds against the backdrop of the riots, which erupted after the acquittal of the police officers who videotaped the beating of Rodney King, an African-American man. Many people seek revenge for personal and social grievances and, likewise, Antonio manages to avenge his family and the others Longoria killed.

Tobar makes the novel more dynamic by showing the intricacies of his characters’ lives, including close friends and others with whom they interact. While the beginning and end of the novel primarily focus on L.A. in the early 90s, these sections include many flashbacks to the past in Guatemala. We learn about Longoria’s military life and the radical student milieu of Antonio and Elena. The novel is written with a third-person limited point of view, which means we spend our time alternately in the heads of these two figures much of the time.

In Part Two we also receive the perspective of Elena, a devoted wife and mother who dies as she tries to fight against injustice. Themes within the novel include the experience of Latino immigrants in the U.S., violence and dictatorship in Guatemala and El Salvador, the role of the U.S. in Latin America, homelessness, poverty, race relations in Los Angeles, and the concept of marking or being marked.

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Chapters 1-3