Inherit the Wind | Study Guide

Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee

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Inherit the Wind | Act 2, Scene 2 | Summary

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Summary

The story continues two days later, and the trial is well underway. It is midday, the courtroom is packed, and the weather is oppressively hot.

First Witness: Howard

Matthew Harrison Brady has 13-year-old Howard on the stand and is asking what he learned in Bertram Cates's classroom. Howard relates his understanding of evolution as well as he is able. Knowing that his followers are hanging on his every word, Brady uses the boy's awkward phrasing as cues for both humor and persuasive rhetoric. He asks Howard how man supposedly came out of the "slimy mess of bugs and serpents," and calls Darwin's theory "Evil-ution." Henry Drummond doesn't even bother to object at this point, knowing that it is impossible to change Brady's style or the court's enthusiasm for hearing it.

Drummond does object, however, when Brady once again begins grandstanding and appeals to the "ladies and gentlemen" in the courtroom. Drummond asks the judge to insist that Brady limit his remarks to evidence for the all-male jury and refrain from making speeches. Brady's response, not surprisingly, is to deliver a speech as though "the spirit is upon him," an approach that recalls the tone of Brown's sermon in the former scene. He refers to Howard's "tragic confusion" and condemns "these Bible-haters, these Evil-utionists." He describes them as "peddlers of poison" who are pushing the messages of "Godless science." His speech captivates the audience, eliciting applause in the courtroom.

Wryly, Drummond says he is glad that Brady didn't make a speech, but the courtroom does not appreciate his attempt to ridicule their hero. Drummond then cross-examines Howard. He speaks directly to the boy instead of at or around him, and asks for his opinions on what he has learned and whether those lessons are right or wrong. Tom Davenport objects to Drummond's attempt to have the boy present an opinion on morality. Drummond jumps on the objection as an opportunity to drive home his point that not only Howard, but all people everywhere, have the right to opinions and, more importantly, the right to think. When the judge states that "the right to think is not on trial," Drummond counters that it absolutely is, but he rephrases his questions.

The cross-examination of Howard continues. Drummond asks Howard if he feels he has been hurt in any way by what he has learned in Bertram Cates's classroom. When Howard replies he has to think things over before answering, Drummond praises him. Shortly afterward, Brady attacks Drummond for bewildering the boy, asking him if Right has any meaning to him. Drummond says it does not—that truth has meaning, but only as a direction. He believes that "Right" is an amorphous term. Men, he argues, have set up an inflexible and unworkable grid of morality that people are measured against. At that he excuses Howard, who is gaping at him with something close to hero worship.

Second Witness: Rachel Brown

Rachel is called as the next witness. Brady begins by asking her about Cates. It is clear that he already knows what she will say and is planning his questions and responses accordingly. For example, Rachel says Cates left the church after a young boy, Tommy Stebbins, drowned and the Reverend Brown said he didn't die in a state of grace because his parents had not had him baptized. Cates temporarily derails Brady's questioning by leaping furiously to his feet. He demands Rachel admit what her father really said: that the boy's soul was "damned, writhing in hellfire." Brady recovers the situation by attacking Cates for his "bigoted opinions" on the subject of religion, and he continues questioning Rachel. He twists every one of her responses so that they further damn Cates, and Rachel comes close to having a breakdown on the stand. Cates refuses to let Drummond cross-examine her, a request to which Drummond reluctantly agrees.

In an attempt to educate the jury on the concept of evolution, which is at the heart of the case, Drummond now attempts to call 15 different expert witnesses. These include several scientists, professors, and philosophers. Brady successfully convinces the judge, who appears to be completely out of his depth in this trial, to prohibit any discussion that would allow those witnesses to "shout their heresies into the headlines." Frustrated, Drummond makes one more attempt to persuade the judge to allow his experts to speak. He says he only wants to present facts that are as "incontrovertible as geometry in every enlightened community of minds." The judge responds that in Hillsboro, and in their state, exactly the opposite is true.

Drummond is temporarily stymied, but then the beginnings of an idea take shape in his mind. Since science texts and academic experts are forbidden, he asks the judge if he can call an expert on the Bible to the stand: Matthew Harrison Brady. The judge is startled, and Davenport tries to advise Brady to refuse. Brady cannot resist the limelight, however, and agrees. He takes the stand, confident and assured.

Third Witness: Matthew Harrison Brady

Henry Drummond begins his examination slowly. He has Brady confirm that he is an expert on the Bible, and that he has never read a word of Darwin. When Drummond asks Brady how, if he has never read Darwin, he can be certain its contents are irreconcilable with the Bible, Brady pretends not to understand the question.

Drummond continues. He asks Brady if he believes every word in the Bible should be taken literally. Brady emphatically asserts, "Everything in the Bible should be accepted, exactly as it is given there." Drummond then begins a series of questions designed to show some of the logical fallacies inherent in a literal interpretation. These include the story of Jonah and the "great fish"; the impossibility of the sun standing still as described in the story of Joshua; and the unexplained appearance of Cain's wife when the only humans that should exist are Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel. Brady doggedly answers every question with some variation of "I have faith in the Bible."

Tom Davenport eventually objects to Drummond's questions, and Drummond temporarily loses his temper. He says he must be allowed to question the one witness remaining to him in any way he chooses. Brady says complacently he is willing to continue, since Drummond is simply displaying his contempt for all that is holy. At that Drummond responds there are many things holy to him, the most important of which is the individual human mind. He says, too, that "an idea is a greater monument than a cathedral." For progress to occur, he continues, people must be willing to leave some things behind, including the "pleasant poetry of Genesis."

Brady then argues that people must not abandon their old views or faith. Drummond asks why then were people given the power to think. He points out that the ability to think critically is the only thing separating humans from animals—unless even a sponge can think. When Brady asserts that yes, a sponge could think if God wished it to, Drummond roars out that Bertram Cates simply wants "to be accorded the same privilege as a sponge! He wishes to think!" With this statement there is a spattering of applause from the courtroom. Brady reacts to the sound as though he has been struck.

The most powerful moment, though, is yet to come. Drummond holds out a rock and quizzes Brady on the age of the world. Brady provides an answer—that the world began on October 23rd, 4004 B.C., a number based on a biblical scholar's "computation of the ages of the prophets as set down in the Old Testament." Drummond off-handedly questions Brady about the length of the first day of creation, wondering if it may have been 25 hours, since there was not yet a sun by which to measure it. When Brady cautiously admits that the first day may not have been a typical 24-hour day, Drummond's trap has been sprung. Once Brady has admitted that the first day was of indeterminate length, Drummond triumphantly points out that the first day could have been 30 hours, a month, a year, or 10 million years.

Brady realizes he's been beaten, and he and Drummond begin to hurl accusations at each other. Brady accuses Drummond of trying to destroy people's belief in God. Drummond responds that his only goal is to stop "you bigots and ignoramuses from controlling the education of the United States." Brady stubbornly returns to his argument that the Bible is the revealed word of the Almighty God, and in desperation he says he knows this to be true because God speaks to him as well. Drummond pounces on Brady's statement in order to humiliate him, calling Brady the "Prophet from Nebraska." The courtroom erupts in laughter. Brady frantically tries to regain control, but he only looks increasingly ridiculous and the laughter grows louder.

Drummond seizes his advantage and viciously continues the attack. He asks Brady if he truly believes that "to be against Brady is to be against God." Brady, confused, answers that each man is a free agent, providing an opening for Drummond to ask "then what is Bertram Cates doing in the Hillsboro jail?" Drummond's point is made, but he continues to humiliate his opponent, calling him "Brady, Brady, Brady, Almighty" as the courthouse laughs and applauds. Drummond excuses Brady from the stand, but Brady remains where he is, desperately trying to regain the support of his followers and his role of defender of the faith by frantically reciting the names of the books in the Bible. But the crowd ignores him. Spectators and reporters alike cluster around Drummond. Mrs. Brady approaches the witness stand, puts her arms around her husband, and tries to comfort him. Like a child, Brady says, "Mother. They're laughing at me, Mother! ... I can't stand it when they laugh at me." She rocks him, saying, "It's all right, baby. It's all right."

Analysis

This is the play's climactic scene, the powder keg that sets off both intellectual and emotional explosions. It is a scene where attitudes are reshaped and power shifts. It is also the scene where Hillsboro experiences the "awakening" mentioned in the opening stage directions of the play.

The initial scene with Howard, like the one at the beginning of Act 1, foreshadows what will take place in the larger context of trial. Under Matthew Harrison Brady's examination, Howard is portrayed as an innocent who is being dragged away from morality and religion by the representative of evil, godless science—Bertram Cates. Once Henry Drummond begins questioning the boy, however, the larger issue of an individual's right to think is once again introduced. Howard is subtly given permission by Drummond to have doubts about what he has learned—both the religious doctrines he was taught in church and the scientific concepts he learned from Cates. He is encouraged to take time to examine both more closely before drawing conclusions. When Drummond closes by quietly voicing his thoughts about the importance of searching for truth rather than judging people against an inflexible, arbitrary grid of morality, it is clear his words are meant for the jury and the courtroom as much as, and perhaps more than, for Howard. The boy leaves the stand idolizing the man who has opened his mind to a new way of thinking. A similar shift may be happening to the listening adults, even though they do not yet show it.

The scene with Rachel Brown reveals less about her than about Brady. Despite his solicitous manner and use of the phrase my dear, Brady shows an almost fiendish delight in twisting her words to serve his purposes. His strategy backfires somewhat, though, when Cates jumps up during Rachel's testimony about the Stebbins boy. Cates reveals the disturbing truth: that the Reverend Brown had decreed that the young boy's soul was damned and "writhing in hellfire" because his parents had not had him baptized. A few individuals in the courtroom lash out at what they see as Cates's sinful nature, and Brady attempts to use Cates's outburst as proof that he is bigoted against religion. But the powerful moment has likely had the same effect on the jury and listeners as it did on the theatre audience. Cates is shown as a compassionate man who may have had his reasons for turning on organized religion, at least as it is practiced by the Reverend Brown in Hillsboro. Brady may have further hurt both his case and his image as he continued to bully Rachel into a near breakdown. The applause and support that were so obvious when Brady questioned Howard are noticeably absent now.

It is Brady's time on the stand, though, that dramatically changes the direction of the trial. After all of Drummond's expert witnesses have been dismissed and testimony based on any of the sciences is deemed irrelevant to the case, it is clear that the inept judge and the provincial attitudes of the town will make a trial based on evidence all but impossible. (The judge's ironic statement that Hillsboro is the opposite of "every enlightened community" makes this eminently clear.) Drummond is forced to rely on the only text and the only individual for which the town and the judge have unqualified respect: the Bible and Matthew Harrison Brady.

Tom Davenport is smart enough to sense the inherent danger in the situation, knowing that Drummond would not call his enemy to the stand without a plan in mind. But at this point, Brady's overconfidence and pride prove to be his undoing. He would rather once again be center stage, basking in the adoration of his followers, than refuse to testify, even though by refusing he would likely shut down Drummond's entire defense. As the stage directions make clear, the scene is now set for a clash of giants.

Drummond's attack on Brady is that of an intelligent predator creeping up on its prey—at one point, Drummond even "moistens his lips in anticipation." He purposely allows Brady to once more proclaim his belief in the stories of the Bible and elicit the automatic "Amens" from the courtroom. But then, relentlessly, he begins to poke holes in those same stories. He forces Brady, the jury, and the courtroom spectators to realize that some of the events in the Bible, like Joshua's stopping of the sun, contradict every known law of nature. The audience is still on Brady's side, but once again they are being forced to think.

The turning point occurs when Drummond makes his impassioned speech about the holiness of the individual mind and the sanctity of "a child's power to master the multiplication table." At that point he turns to the jury and addresses them directly. He quietly asks them if the advance of man's knowledge is worth sacrificing for the privilege of holding on to a fable. He then continues to chip away at Brady's confidence. He uses his opponent's own words about a sponge's ability to think against him and demands to know why a man doesn't have that same right. For the first time, Drummond elicits applause from the audience, a sound that affects Brady like a physical blow. The town's support begins to shift more and more quickly to Drummond's side. The climactic moment comes when Drummond traps Brady into admitting the first days of Creation could have lasted for millions of years. Drummond continues to confuse and eventually humiliate Brady, using Brady's assertions that he speaks to God to show him as the arrogant person he is.

As the spectators break into more applause and bury Brady in derisive laughter, the tragedy of a broken man begins to reveal itself. Brady cannot regain the courtroom's attention or respect. When the judge adjourns proceedings for the day, Brady is left only with his shattered vanity and a child's need to be comforted. The last scene, with his wife cradling him and calling him "baby," is a powerful metaphor for his defeat.

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