In the following essay, Champion explicates the symbolic use of the terms "right" and "left" in To Kill a Mockingbird, arguing that "right" in the novel symbolizes virtue, while "left" symbolizes iniquity.] Throughout Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, besides the ordinary connotations of "right" and "left" as opposing spatial directions, the terms also work on a subtler level: "right" suggesting virtue and "left" suggesting iniquity.Connotations of "right" and "left" play a crucial role during the climactic trial scenes. Building evidence against Bob Ewell, Atticus asks Sheriff Tate which one of Mayella's eyes was bruised the night she was attacked, and Tate replies, "Her left.
" Atticus asks, "Was it her left facing you or her left looking the same way you were?" (179). Tate says, "Oh yes, that'd make it her right. It was her right eye, Mr. Finch. I remember now, she was bunged up on that side of her face" (179).
Bob says that he agrees with Tate's testimony that Mayella's "right eye was blackened" (187). A reading of the transcript of Tate's testimony reminds the jury that Tate testified that Mayella's right eye was black: "[W]hich eye her left oh yes that'd make it her right it was her right eye. [..
.] [I]t was her right eye I said--" (187). Directional words "right" and "left" are repeated, emphasizing the dichotomy. Literally, Mayella could not see clearly from her right eye when it was bruised; symbolically, Mayella cannot act morally.Whereas Mayella's right eye is bruised, Atticus is nearly blind in his left eye, both literally and figuratively: "Whenever he wanted to see something well, he turned his head and looked from his right eye" (98). Later, when Atticus scolds Scout, he pins her "to the wall with his good eye" (146).
When Atticus questions Mayella on the witness stand, he "turned his good right eye to the witness" (199). Atticus uses his "right" eye, his "good" eye for wisdom. Both "good" and "right" express moral undertones, as in "the good," suggesting wisdom and insight are products of "good" eyes.Portrayals of Mayella's bruised right eye also contrast portrayals of Tom's left arm, which was "fully twelve inches shorter than his right, and hung dead at his side" (197). Tom's left arm "hung dead," just as immorality is dead in him.
While the court observes Tom's mangled left arm, Atticus asks Mayella, "He blackened your left eye with his right fist?" (198-99). Atticus's point is made, and with repeated use of various connotations of words such as "left," "right," and "side," implications of morality abound.Atticus proves Bob is left-handed, providing circumstantial evidence that Bob attacked Mayella. Atticus says, "Mayella Ewell was beaten savagely by someone who led almost exclusively with his left" (216). Bob signs a warrant "with his left hand," whereas Tom takes "the oath with the only good hand he possesses--his right hand" (216).
Bob is "led" by the immoral left, but Tom tells the truth, swearing with his "good" right hand. Tom's "good arm" parallels Atticus's "good eye," and in both cases "good" signifies proper function and virtue.Before Tom's mangled left arm is exposed, Scout questions Tom's innocence. She says that if Mayella's "right eye was blacked and she was beaten mostly on the right side of the face, it would tend to show that a left-handed person did it. [.
..] But Tom Robinson could easily be left-handed, too. Like Mr. Heck Tate, I imagined a person facing me, went through a swift mental pantomime, and concluded that he might have held her with his right hand and pounded her with his left" (189). Again, the words "right" and "left" are repeated.
Scout also uses the word "facing," a directional word that represents the jury Tom faces and the truth the jury refuses to face.Lee introduces a right-left dichotomy in the opening scene of To Kill a Mockingbird, a scene narrated many years after the events of the narrative proper. Scout says that Jem's "left arm was somewhat shorter than his right; when he stood or walked, the back of his hand was at right angles to his body [...]" (9).
Jem, like Tom, has an injured left arm and a healthy right arm. His hand turns at right angles, signifying his morally correct perspective. In the opening paragraph, Scout provides a framework for her story, disclosing that she will explain how Jem's accident occurred. As the plot unravels, readers are told how Jem hurt his arm.
More important, readers come to understand Jem's moral development.Immediately after Atticus shoots a rabid dog, Sheriff Tate runs to Atticus and taps "his finger on his forehead above his left eye" (105). He says, "You were a little to the right, Mr. Finch.
" Atticus answers, "Always was [...]" (105).
Of course, Tate refers to the direction "right" as opposed to "center" or "left," but symbolically, Atticus looks to the "right," protects the neighborhood. The dog "walked erratically, as if his right legs were shorter than his left legs" (101). The dog's lame right legs symbolize malevolence, his danger to society.As in instances where "right" opposes "left," the term "right" designates that a specific spatial locale also has ethical undertones. Atticus tells Calpurnia that Tom stood "[r]ight in front of" the guards who shoot him (248).
Tom stands both directly in front of the guards and on his own symbolic ethical ground. Inquiring if during the trial the children sat in the balcony of the courthouse, Miss Stephanie asks, "Wasn't it right close up there with all those--?" (227). Symbolically, "right" refers to the truth, the section of the courthouse where people sit who support Tom, Atticus, and racial equity.The term "left" also denotes what remains, what is "left" of something. Scout says that the dog "had made up what was left of his mind," turned around and began to walk toward the Finch's house (105). A few paragraphs later, Lee contrasts Atticus's mind with the dog's mind.
After learning Atticus had once been called "Ol' One-Shot [...] the deadest shot in Maycomb County" (106), Jem asks Miss Maudie why he never brags about his marksmanship talents. She answers, "People in their right minds never take pride in their talents" (107). Here, the "right" mind literally refers to people who think straight, level-headed people--in this case, implying that Atticus is humble.
Whereas the dog uses what is "left" of his mind to harm people, Atticus, in his "right" mind, exemplifies humility.Atticus, Tom, and Jem represent moral virtue: Atticus uses his "right" mind and his "good, right" eye to defend Tom; Tom takes the oath with his "good, right" hand; and Jem, with his vigorous "right" arm, defends Tom. Contrarily, the rabid dog, Mayella, and Bob represent moral inequity. The dog's "left" legs are healthy; Mayella's "left" eye is healthy; and Bob is "left" handed.
The rabid dog presents a physical threat to Maycomb County, but Mayella and Bob present a social threat--the perpetuation of racism. Atticus's virtue only enables him to eliminate the physical threat. That the jury convicts Tom in the end signals that Atticus loses his battle against racism.