Publication Details:Explicator 61.4 (Summer 2003): p234-236. Source:Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Jeffrey W. Hunter. Vol. 194. Detroit: Gale, 2005. From Literature Resource Center. Document Type:Critical essay
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale, COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning
[(essay date summer 2003) 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...