During the trial Scene of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, what symbols represent Atticus Finch and why?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A symbol is any object used by an author to represent greater meaning than just the literal meaning of the object. In the court scene of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, beginning at Chapter 17, it can be said that one symbol representing Atticus is his fountain pen.

During Atticu's cross-examination of Bob Ewell, Atticus first asks Ewell if he concurs with Sheriff Heck Tate's statement that Mayella was bruised on the right side of her face. After Ewell concurs, Atticus next asks Ewell if he can read and write then hands him an envelope and his fountain pen, asking him to write his name. As Ewell does so, he writes with his left hand, and when Judge Taylor asks him if he is ambidextrous, Ewell intelligently replies, "I most positively am not, I can use one hand good as the other" (Ch. 17). Whereas Atticus has just proven Ewell can use his left hand, he later proves it is impossible for the accused Tom Robinson to be able to use his crippled left arm and hand at all. The information is important because only a man who could use his left hand would be able to bruise Mayella on the right side of her face while facing her. The fact that Ewell can use his left hand whereas Robinson cannot shows that Ewell is the more likely guilty culprit of having hurt Mayella, not Robinson.

A commonly known adage, meaning philosophical saying is, "The pen is mightier than the sword," an idea that appears in a play titled Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy, written by English playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839. The adage asserts that our ability to write or use words is much more powerful for effecting change than our ability to use physical force or violence. During the trial, Atticus is very limited in his abilities to effect change since the outcome of the trial depends on the jury, and the jury members, like most of Maycomb's citizens, are very accustomed to judging based on their racial prejudices. Therefore, though he certainly cannot force the jury to make a fair and unbiased ruling based on the evidence, he has the ability to present evidence to the jury using the power of his words. Therefore, Atticus's fountain pen handed to Ewell symbolizes Atticus's power to use words to make a difference.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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