Chapter 13: Decoding the Meaning of Tattoos: Cluster Criticism and the Case of Tupac Shakur’s Body Art

We have various ways of communicating in our present time; however, symbolism still plays a very significant role in our daily lives. Some symbols have deep significance to us or to others, dependant on beliefs and the personal lifestyle of an individual. Symbols, such as tattoos, can mirror the morals, values, passions, dreams, and fears of a society. Moreover, tattoos become a way in which the self is communicated. Tupac Shakur’s tattoos communicated his sense of self and his worldview. This essay seeks to analyze the nonverbal discourse (tattoos) of Shakur by using Kenneth Burke’s cluster criticism as a method of analysis in an effort to show that Shakur’s motivation for tattooing his body was threefold: (1) his need to move in his life towards harmony, (2) progressing towards harmony requires moving between order and chaos, and (3) God is a destroyer of chaos and will restore order to the universe.