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Inherit the Wind | Study Guide

Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee

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Inherit the Wind | Act 2, Scene 1 | Summary



The scene begins just prior to Reverend Jeremiah Brown's prayer meeting, which is being held on the courthouse lawn. Two workmen discuss whether to take down the banner that says "Read Your Bible," which Drummond had challenged during jury selection. They decide to leave it up, with one workman saying "The Devil don't run this town."

Matthew Harrison Brady arrives, surrounded by reporters and repeating a variation of his favorite theme: that he is "fighting the fight of the Faithful throughout the world." When asked about Henry Drummond, Brady reveals that the two men were once friends, and that Drummond had even supported Brady's bid for the presidency. But then he returns to orator mode, with the stage directions noting that he speaks at writing speed so the reporters can catch every word. He says even though he has no animosity toward Drummond, he would oppose his own brother if he "challenged the faith of millions, as Mr. Drummond is doing." The writers scribble furiously, with only E.K. Hornbeck not lifting a pencil. After Brady is done speaking, he approaches Hornbeck and comments on his biased reporting of the events in Hillsboro. Hornbeck comments that he is a critic, not a reporter.

The Reverent Brown appears, escorting Mrs. Brady, and the prayer meeting begins. The stage directions make it clear that to the people of Hillsboro, a prayer meeting is entertainment: a motion picture and radio show combined into one. Similarly, the Reverend has the impact of a movie star. Brown pauses, building anticipation for his sermon, but glowers when he sees Drummond appear at the fringes of the crowd. Putting the man from his mind, Brown tells his worshippers that he "come[s] to [them] on the Wings of the Word." He launches into the story of Creation, preaching in the rhythmic, call-and-response style of an evangelist. Within seconds the meeting becomes a full-blown tent revival, with the congregation chanting their responses and crying out frequent Amens and Hosannahs.

When the Reverend reaches the part of the story concerning Adam and Eve, his tone suddenly shifts. The sermon becomes a vicious attack on Bertram Cates, who Brown says "denies the Word." Brown whips his listeners into a frenzy, feeding the flames of their fanaticism until they are blindly agreeing to "call down hellfire on the man who has sinned against the Word." The prayer meeting becomes more and more disturbing, with Brown raving like a man possessed and pleading with God to condemn Bertram's soul to "writhe in anguish and damnation" for all eternity. When Rachel cries out to him not to destroy Cates, Brown turns on her, asking God to call down the same curse on anyone who would support the sinner, even though they are "blood of my blood."

At this point even Brady has had enough. Already uncomfortable with the Reverend's sermon, he now stands and grabs Brown's arm, suggesting that God forgives his children and so people should forgive each other. He also cautions Brown that by being overzealous, a person may end up destroying the very thing he means to save. To make his point, he quotes from the Bible, reminding Brown "he that troubleth his own house ... shall inherit the wind."

The crowd calms, and the people head home, humming a spiritual. Brady is left alone with Drummond, who has been watching him expressionlessly. Brady moves over to him, asking what has happened to their relationship and wondering why Drummond has moved so far away from him. Drummond pauses, and then comments that all motion is relative. He tells Brady, "Perhaps it is you who have moved away—by standing still." The comment has a powerful impact on Brady, who falls back in shock.


The prayer meeting brings into sharp relief the provincial nature of Hillsboro and the dangers of religious dogma—the tendency to believe that one's beliefs are incontrovertibly true without consideration of facts or the beliefs of others. A small hint of what is to come is provided when the workmen decide to leave the "Read Your Bible" banner up, emphatically stating "the Devil don't run this town." Whether they are referring to Drummond, whom Brown had characterized as the devil, or the Devil himself is left open to the audience's interpretation.

The prayer meeting itself is a chilling illustration of the nightmare to which both narrow-mindedness and religious zealotry can lead. Reverend Brown begins his sermon in the dramatic style of a tent-revival preacher, calling out that "the Lord's Word is howling in the Wind, and flashing in the belly of the Cloud!" His congregation immediately falls into a call-and-response cadence, as they have obviously done their whole lives. They echo the Reverend's words, shout out "Amens," and respond to Brown's familiar retelling of the story of creation like programmed automatons.

But Brown is using his sermon as a trap. He quickly escalates it into a fire-and-brimstone condemnation of anyone who would dare question the literal Word as presented in the Bible. He is pointing directly to the jail that holds Bertram Cates, and he calls down hellfire and damnation on the imprisoned teacher. The crowd, which automatically accepts anything Brown says, unthinkingly echoes his hatred of Cates, cursing the young man and screaming for him to be cast out of their midst. Then the unspeakable happens. When Rachel begs her father not to pray to destroy Bertram, Brown condemns her to writhe in the same hellish torment he is asking God to visit on Cates. As for Hillsboro, if the town is indeed on trial, it has just revealed the cruelty and inhumanity that lie beneath its "Christian" facade.

Unexpectedly, Brown's fury allows Brady to be revealed as a more compassionate and thoughtful man than he has previously appeared. Although he continued to grandstand when he first appeared at the meeting, wrapping himself in the flattering cloak of a defender of the faith, he still displays true humanity. He is visibly uncomfortable during the Reverend's sermon, as though startled by what he himself may have unleashed. When Brown condemns his own daughter, Brady leaps to his feet, grabbing the man's arm to stop him and attempting to restore reason. He uses the Reverend's own tool, the Bible, presenting a very different interpretation of how God wants people to treat sinners. He urges forgiveness and warns the Reverend that zealotry can destroy the very things one hopes to save. It is at this moment that he quotes the line from which the title of the play comes: "He that troubleth his own house ... shall inherit the wind." In other words, if people begin attacking what is most precious to them they may be left with nothing. His words calm both Brown and the townspeople. And although no one makes a point of it, he shows that the Bible is indeed open to interpretation.

The last few moments of the scene focus on Brady and Drummond. Brady, who has told the townspeople that he and Drummond were once allies "on the same side of the fence," seems genuinely saddened the two men have grown apart. He asks why Drummond seems to have moved so far away from him in ideals and beliefs. Drummond's response—that perhaps it is Brady who has "moved away by standing still"—shock his former friend. For the first time, Brady appears to see himself in a different, and very troubling, light.

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