This answer contains spoilers… (view spoiler)[I felt that it was done as a way not to forget. Not to shame themselves, but to remember the person who died. At least with Kirsten, she remembered each one well; she didn't kill unless it was unavoidable in self-defense. I believe that points to their desire to not allow killing to become easy or unemotional as it was for those who lived their life by harming others in the new world. (hide spoiler)]
Grace It was bugging me the whole time that in a World where if you get an infection you will probably die that people are tattooing themselves?!
Joshua Walker Toward the end Kirsten was discussing how she carried those she was forced to kill with her forever and I believe that this was the physical embodiment of that. I did not think this was in any way a badge of honor, Kirsten doesn't seem like she enjoyed the killing so I cannot see her marking herself as a shrine to the act.
Em If you have killed someone, you have already been deeply marked by the act. To me, the tattoos seem to be a way of making visible the invisible wound; the body is altered to reflect that the soul has been altered. Kirsten in particular carries these memories and feels the echoes of their deaths with her.
Kim Horner Kirsten did not feel anything was remotely honorable in killing. It was an act of self-defense, but remember the Symphony's Star Trek inspired motto that to survive was not sufficient: Having killed and survived, the killer felt it necessary to commemorate the death with something artistic. It also served as a warning--less aggressive than displaying the actual weapons--to those who might attack someone so marked.
This answer contains spoilers… (view spoiler)[I also think it ties in with one of the book's themes on reflection of the life. How will your life be remembered? Arthur's life as an artist will be considered fake, pandering to his public while Miranda's will be true art and a copy of her Station Eleven will always be maintained at the airport museum. For Kristen's victims, the entire lives they led will be distilled down to just that single action: malevolent pursuit of Kristen. For this they will be remembered, and nothing more. (hide spoiler)]
Lori Sue Kirsten's modesty regarding the tattoos, coupled with the brief but sober explanation of them when she is reunited with her dear friend Charlie, suggest to me that it was an act of acknowledging a life, important enough to remember, even though it was necessary to take. Maybe it was a way to keep sane, by expressing it openly, without words, and still not keep it a secret, avoiding shame. I liked how easily this element of conscience, the awareness of good and evil was seemingly never discussed or obsessed over -- it seemed to be understood among all of the survivors as a foundational belief of their new world.
The truth is written on our hearts...Romans 2:15
The truth is written on our hearts...Romans 2:15
Victoria Hess I would guess it is only a tradition in places. We just didn't get to see everyone's arms in this piece. To these people it was a badge of honor. Such an act has to be accepted with honor, or else it could fester with shame and pain. Still, K. admits the impact of each death on her.
David H. Much like a rite of passage, these tats are meant to be a symbol of the baggage that we all carry and a means to identify others with the same burdens.
Rita I wondered this too. It seems incongruent. But maybe to differentiate between those who died from the flu and those who were killed. Numbering off those who survived, but then died?
Kumari de Silva Well the story didn't exist in a vacuum, it was supposed to pick up right where our world left off. in our world pretty much all of Kirsten's adults would have tattoos, so why wouldn't she want one? In marking her kills she's making a personal decision, we don't know if that is a common thing anywhere outside of her social circle. Lastly, ancient Hawaiians and Native Americans tattooed themselves apparently without dying from infection. I don't know anything about tattoos on the mainland USA but in the South Pacific traditional tribal tattoos would often cover the whole body. So it must be possible to do without a modern needle kit
Ufuk Cetincan Every culture will create their own tradition, no matter how weird it sounds. Our world - present and past - is full of them...
Anna I thought about this, too, I wondered if it was some sort of social law that almost required you to be transparent about the lives you have taken. It sort of reminded me of the Walking Dead, with the three questions Rick must ask everyone before taking them in, one of those questions being, "How many people have you killed?".
Chris Rigby It wasn't a general thing. AFAIK it was limited to the Symphony, perhaps inherited from a community they'd passed through? You would want people - who might be bandits - to know you're not someone to be messed with.
Sabrina Gutierrez This part of the story really didn't make sense to me. If she didn't like killing, why did she get them? Was this some sort of social code that it was required to tattoo yourself every time you killed someone? I wish there was some backstory to this, otherwise it seems like an unnecessary undertaking for someone who doesn't want to kill in the first place.