Archive for April, 2010

The Left “Defect”

April 27, 2010

       Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, tells the infamous account of Scout and her brother, Jem’s, childhood, and their fascination with the mysterious Boo Radley. The story depicts the innocence and curiosity of the children growing up in the stereotypical, southern community of Maycomb, Alabama. Within the story exists a few meticulous symbols that can easily be overlooked, or simply seen as a coincidence. Lee expresses the “godliness” of two prominent characters in To Kill a Mockingbird to further develop the presence of underlying benevolence in the story. Both Atticus Finch and Tom Robinson bear left-sided impairments which are clearly noticeable to the reader, but it’s a detail that can be easily disregarded as one of  the story’s quirks when written.

        Atticus’s nearly- blind left eye and Tom’s stunted left arm are hardly coincidental. Acknowledging the fact that left-handedness was once associated with the wrongdoings of the devil, right-handedness has been indubitably favored in the past. Just a few decades ago (around the same time Lee sat down to tell this tale), some people remained adamant in the belief that left- handed people possessed some sort of devilish characteristics based on a few superstitions and verses in the Bible. For example, the book of Matthew states  “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’ … Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:31-34, 41). In this verse, God is condemning all to his left, cursing them to forever belong with the devil.

         There is most likely no truth behind the suspicion linking the devil and left- handed people, but this myth plays a very vital role in the symbolism behind To Kill a Mockingbird. The inability for Atticus and Tom to have proper function from their defective left-sided parts emphasizes their god like qualities that appear throughout the novel. When old Tim Johnson became sick with rabies, Atticus was the man that Sheriff Tate declared as the best shot in town, despite having almost no use in his left eye. When Tom’s trial was held, he, himself was the only evidence that could prove his innocence. His stunted left arm proved that he couldn’t have possibly committed the rape he was accused of (even though the town declared him guilty).   

            Another familiar superstition is the act of tossing salt over your left shoulder with your right arm to ward off evil spirits and bad luck.(2) Additionally, parents have always taught their children to “start off the day on the right foot,” not the left. Another example from Christianity, it is the right hand that gives the blessing and makes the sign of the cross, a clear emphasis on the right hand’s importance. Each of these examples may or may not convince one in believing the myth, but this does provide enough background to acknowledge Lee’s association between the godliness of the characters and their inability to commit wrongdoings. They are strongest representations of justice in the novel.

            In addition to his left-eyed impairment, Atticus takes part in other illusions of saintliness in the novel; one scene in particular stands out. The evening that Tom Robinson is staying overnight for the upcoming trial, Atticus experiences a sense of duty and responsibility towards Tom’s well being. Atticus instinctively knew that Tom would have a few unwelcome visitors in jail, so he went out of his way to stay outside the jailhouse that night. Lee describes the physicality of the scene very intentionally. Atticus sat outside the gothic-like jailhouse, solely shining under the bare bulb he’d brought from home. This image conjures the thought of a guardian angel looking down from the beaming light of heaven, or perhaps God himself, watching over and protecting his children. He sat calmly, reading and waiting. Atticus was plenty aware of the danger he was putting himself in, but it was the just thing to do.

           The left -sided defectiveness that Lee applied to Atticus and Tom Robinson create an added depth and hint of godliness to their characters, that readers may have previously overlooked. What seems to be a mere coincidence, this fine detail actually supports Lee’s message in a very beneficial manner.

Works cited:

1. Lee, Harper.(1960). To Kill a Mockingbird. New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing.