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In Jaws, Quint has what looks like a scar on his arm, and it turns out to be a removed tattoo from the USS Indianapolis. But why would he have had the tattoo removed? Is that a tribute of some kind to the ship going down (which would be pretty counterintuitive), or is there some other reason he would have done so?

  • Why would it be counterintuitive? He was pretty annoyed (to put it mildly) with the navy and he wanted nothing more to do with them. – Mr Lister Mar 8 '18 at 7:17
  • There's an interview with Spielberg that includes a sizable discussion of this scene here. There's no indication of why the tattoo was removed though. – Snow Mar 8 '18 at 10:30
  • @MrLister I find it counterintuitive because a tattoo like that is generally a mark of camaraderie with the other people on the ship, more than a mark of attachment to the Navy at large. And typically when comrades have been lost in the line of duty, the survivors find it critical to keep alive the memory of those lost. Honestly, it would have been more typical to GET a tattoo commemorating the ship, rather than to literally try to erase the memory. – spoko Mar 8 '18 at 14:33
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Firstly, I think we can assume that Quint had the tattoo before the USS Indianapolis sank so it was a 'celebration' of the ship, when she was afloat rather than a 'memorium' to the ship after She sank.

Quint, as you can tell from his reticence to tell the story, his subsequent obssession with sharks and the 'tone' he uses to tell the story (especially how he says 'bomb'), that the whole episode affected him greatly and didn't leave a positive impression.

I'd therefore suggest that he was embarrassed or traumatised to be associated with the ship and all She stood for, especially the delivery of the bomb.

For this, reason, he had the tattoo removed.

Some other resources:

The only non-existent tattoo on this list – as Hooper and Quint drunkenly compare scars on the Orca in Jaws, Hooper notices a scar on Quint’s arm. It is identified as a removed tattoo for the USS Indianapolis, a real life Navy ship sunk during WWII that was known for the amount of shark attacks inflicted upon the survivors.

It’s this story – Quint’s time stranded at sea told in an amazing monologue – that reveals so much about the character. We suddenly understand exactly where this man is coming from, that he experienced something that will never go away, no matter how hard he tries. His only hope is to face it head on, which explains his profession.

Really it’s the fact that he removed the tattoo, the fact that he didn’t want people to ask him all the time about it and not be reminded by it that shows a sliver of vulnerability in an otherwise hard-as-nails man.

From : Character defining movie tattoos

We learn this from the scene wherein Quint and Hooper are comparing physical wounds. It's all fun and games - a friendly competition - until Brody asks about one scar on Quint's arm. Turns out, it was from a tattoo removal. That tattoo in question was from his time in the Navy; more specifically, it was related to the Indianapolis. Of all the scars, this was the one that wasn't a laughing matter. Sure, the story was inherently grave and serious, but it wasn't ultimately about the Indianapolis. The story highlights that Quint left the experience (understandably) scarred mentally.

He tried to remove the memories when he had the tattoo removed, and perhaps his career choice was also an effort to exercise his demons. His profession? Shark hunter. Having survived but witnessed a huge number of shark attacks, he spent his life killing sharks himself. Rather than staying as far away from the ocean as possible, he went on some sort of revenge motif. Or maybe he hunts sharks because he knows it can be dangerous and he might finally suffer the fate he feels he should have suffered during the war. He seems to know right away how dangerous the shark in Jaws actually is, as evident by his asking price.

From : Jaws - all about Quint

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    This is the motivation - "He tried to remove the memories when he had the tattoo removed" - I don't think he'd be ashamed of delivering the bomb...in fact he seems proud of that despite what happended to him. – Paulie_D Mar 8 '18 at 12:36
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    @Paulie_D I thought the same thing. When he says, "Anyway, we delivered the bomb," there's a lot going on in his voice. Mostly it seems to be real pride at having accomplished that, mixed with sorrow for the price they eventually paid. – spoko Mar 8 '18 at 12:39
  • His only hope is to face it head on, which explains his profession. This seems true, but it only makes the tattoo removal more difficult to understand. Removing the reminder of something isn't exactly a way of "facing it head on." – spoko Mar 8 '18 at 16:39
  • I'd therefore suggest that he was embarrassed or traumatised to be associated with the ship and all She stood for, especially the delivery of the bomb. So is it your sense, then, that he would have had the tattoo removed even if the ship hadn't gone down the way it did? – spoko Mar 8 '18 at 16:39
  • @spoko I guess it depends on the way that YOU think about nuclear weapons. Personally, I'd be pretty devastated because you can bet that the navy didn't tell then what they were delivering. Having said that, it was a different time and a war which we have little experience of . . . – Pat Dobson Mar 8 '18 at 18:56
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The scene looks at the continual themes of loss, paternal mismatch and distrust of closeness as well as all of the above analysis. Quint believes that Hooper is the typical 'wet behind the ears' youth that he distrusts and the initial one-up-manship is designed to embarrass him and show his lack of understanding. Quint however then gains some respect for Hooper and concludes the scene by unpacking that the macho physical scars are actually only skin deep and the scars of 'lives lived' are the ones that hurt. Much like Ahab he realizes that the only way to move on is to meet his daemons head on rather than trying to 'cut out' a pain that will not go away. His refusal to accept help in this quest when destroying the radio is the final opening of the wound left by the sinking and begins the path to his eventual anagnorisis and release at the hands of the shark. The initial ordeal left him half a man, the climax does the same.

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    That's great. Well done working in a literary reference and the $50 word anagnorisis. But of course, nothing you said is any kind of answer to my actual question. – spoko Apr 4 '18 at 22:59

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