Inherit the Wind | Study Guide

Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee

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Inherit the Wind | Act 3 | Summary

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Summary

The play continues the next morning, as the prosecution and defense wait for the return of the jury. The courtroom is nearly empty. Bertram Cates is worried that he could end up in jail. Henry Drummond is unable to state with confidence that he will not—the case was always a long shot. But his belief in the importance of the case is stronger than ever. He tells Cates about Golden Dancer, a beautiful rocking horse he had loved as a child. However, the horse fell apart beneath him the first time he rode it. To Drummond, the horse became a metaphor for anything that appeared to be too good to be true. He tells Cates that whenever he sees something that seems perfect, he looks "behind the paint" and shows up the lie for what it really is. This is what he, as a lawyer, has made his mission.

A radio crew comes in and begins to set up equipment to broadcast the verdict. Drummond reacts with curiosity, Matthew Harrison Brady with delight. His words will go out to a broader audience than he could ever have hoped for. Unknown to either of them, though, the mayor has spoken to the judge, telling him privately that "the boys over at the state capitol" are worried about the way things are going, and that with elections coming up it might be wise not to upset voters.

The court reconvenes, and the radio broadcast begins. The jury returns and quickly delivers its unanimous verdict: Bertram Cates has been found guilty. There are a few cheers, but just as many boos. Brady seems pleased, but this is a bitter victory, not the "conquest with a cavalcade of angels" he had dreamed of. Cates is allowed a final statement and haltingly says that he still will do what he can to oppose an unjust law. But then the judge delivers a final blow—to Brady. Cates's sentence is a fine of $100. As the fine is announced, "the mighty Evolution Law explodes with the pale puff of a wet firecracker."

Brady is appalled, demanding that the judge hand down a harsher sentence that reflects the titanic issues at stake. Drummond says that the sentence doesn't matter because he will be appealing the verdict to the state's Supreme Court. As the judge tries to conclude the trial, Brady frantically asks to deliver the closing speech he had prepared, but the judge supports Drummond's objection that the trial is over and such remarks cannot be part of the record. He invites Brady to speak after the conclusion of the trial.

The trial ends, and Brady begins to deliver his speech. But vendors are swarming into the courtroom, the spectators are ignoring him, and his words are lost. He stubbornly refuses to stop speaking, though, roaring over the noise and turning red in the face. People begin leaving, and the radioman is told by his program director to sign off so that the radio can return to "Matinee Musicale." Brady suddenly freezes and goes mute, his mouth still moving and his eyes bulging. Moments later, he collapses.

Several men rush toward him to carry him to the doctor, and Brady eerily begins to deliver the inaugural speech he would have given if he had been elected president. The crowd follows, primarily out of morbid curiosity. Drummond, watching, comments on "how quickly they can turn" and how painful the betrayal must be when you don't expect it. E.K. Hornbeck, on the other hand, has no pity for Brady, sneering at any "Also-Ran" who becomes "A balding orphan, an aging adolescent / Who never got the biggest piece of candy." He predicts that "Mount Brady will erupt again by nightfall."

Cates, still trying to process what happened, is assured by Drummond that in the eyes of the country he won the case. Moreover, he has given the next person who battles an unjust law the courage to do so. Cates also learns that Hornbeck's paper has taken care of his bail. At that moment Rachel Brown enters with a suitcase. She is smiling and confident. She tells Bertram she has left her father's house, and then tells Drummond she had read Darwin. She still isn't sure she agrees with the idea of evolution, but she now realizes her opinion is almost "beside the point"—that ideas have to be allowed the opportunity to flourish. Both Cates and Drummond are astonished and impressed by her intellectual and personal growth.

The bailiff appears and numbly announces Brady is dead. Everyone reacts visibly to the news, but Hornbeck, true to form, refuses to be a hypocrite. He sneers that Brady probably died of a busted belly and that they should "leave the lamentations to the illiterate." His words ignite a fierce anger in Drummond, who tells Hornbeck, "there was much greatness in this man." Hornbeck lashes back, saying that Brady had already been dead for 30 years. He casts around for a suitable obituary, trying to remember the line Brady used at the Reverend Brown's prayer meeting. To his surprise, Drummond quietly provides the full verse: "He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool shall be servant to the wise in heart."

Hornbeck then accuses Drummond of being willing to ignore Brady's bigotry only because the man is dead. Drummond retorts that he simply refuses to erase a man's lifetime. He repeats his belief that "a giant once lived in that body," but then shocks Hornbeck by saying that Brady got lost because "he was looking for God too high up and too far away." Hornbeck realizes that Drummond is as religious as Brady had ever been and denounces him as a hypocrite. Fired up by his discovery, he hurries away to "hammer out the story of an atheist / Who believes in God."

Drummond doesn't seem troubled. Cates and Rachel decide they will leave together on that afternoon's train, the same one Drummond plans to take. The two hurry off. Drummond prepares to leave the courtroom. At the last moment he sees both the Bible and Rachel's copy of Darwin left on the table. He lifts one book in each hand, as though weighing them. He smiles, slaps them together, and places them side by side in his briefcase.

Analysis

Act 3 is a meticulously crafted blend of tones and moods. It contains triumph and tragedy, hope and cynicism, kindness and cruelty. In short, it reflects the complexity of the trial, its outcome, and the effect of that outcome on the characters.

The jury's verdict is the catalyst for everything that occurs in the scene. Cates has been found guilty, but to some extent that was a foregone conclusion—even Drummond says that winning the case was a long shot. Whether the law prohibiting the teaching of evolution was just or unjust, there really is no question that Bertram broke it. But the judge's light sentence and the reactions of the townspeople to both the verdict and the small fine indicate that the outcome of the trial will have implications not only for the people of Hillsboro but also for the state that created the law and for the country that has been fixated on the trial.

The fact that the jury deliberated for a long time suggests that Drummond's defense had a powerful impact on them. At the beginning of the play, the townspeople were stubbornly attached to their beliefs, mesmerized by both Reverend Jeremiah Brown and Matthew Harrison Brady. Those people would have found Cates guilty in a heartbeat. Instead, the lengthy deliberation implies the jury had been forced to examine the justness of the law and to consider the larger question of an individual's right to think. Their "awakening" was mirrored in the courtroom, where in the previous scene the spectators could be seen slowly shifting to Drummond's side. The verdict still elicits some cheers, but there are just as many boos. It is clear that many, or most, of the townspeople have forsaken both Brady and "that Old Time Religion."

The change in attitude is reinforced when the judge's sentence of a $100 fine does not elicit outrage, as it would have a few days earlier. Instead, there is only "a murmur of surprise." The only one to erupt is Brady, who sees the sentence as a travesty and demands that the judge reconsider. Drummond objects but says he will be appealing the verdict in any case. What neither man realizes is that the judge's decision is not any kind of commentary on Cates's actions or the law he is accused of breaking. It is simply an attempt to ease the pressures coming to him from the state capitol. As Drummond noted earlier, "When they started this fire here, they never figured it would light up the whole sky."

Whatever the reason for the light sentence, the effects are the same. As noted in the stage directions, the small fine means "the mighty Evolution Law explodes with the pale puff of a wet firecracker." But there are more personal effects as well. Brady realizes that his "victory" is actually a defeat in not only the case but also in his attempt to regain the celebrity and fame that he had lost decades before. This is where the tragedy of the play reveals itself. Brady, once a celebrated hero of the heartland, has barely recovered from his humiliation at Drummond's hands in the courtroom the previous day. He is certain of his victory, but when it comes it is a hollow, meaningless one. The crowd turns on him, and "Brady Almighty" becomes a clown, desperately trying to deliver his prepared closing speech surrounded by ice cream vendors. His fall from the figurative pedestal the country once placed him on leads to his literal collapse, and he is carried out of the courtroom mumbling one of the three inaugural addresses he was never able to deliver.

Brady's death brings out the cynicism of Hornbeck and reveals unexpected facets of Drummond's character. Hornbeck dismisses Brady as a pathetic, laughable also-ran, "a Barnum-bunkum Bible-beating bastard." He sees no reason to lament his passing. Drummond, however, is finally free to speak honestly and with compassion of the greatness that was in the man. He muses that Brady was simply looking for God "too high up and too far away." With that comment, Drummond reveals himself to be religious. In Hornbeck's eyes this makes him a hypocrite. But belief in God is something Drummond never denied. His God, however, allows him to think and to question the very Bible that some believers feel is the literal Word of God. As he said earlier, "The Bible is a book. A good book. But it's not the only book." Drummond is every bit the religious warrior that Brady was, but his belief is not only in God but also in the sanctity of the human mind. That belief is symbolized simply and clearly when he pretends to weigh Darwin and the Bible and places them side by side in his briefcase.

In the transformation of Rachel Brown, it is clear that Drummond the warrior has won the battle he was fighting—or at least has begun to make significant progress. Rachel is a symbol of the town of Hillsboro, torn between the faith she was raised with and the new ideas she has been presented with. Although initially tortured by what seems to her to be an irreconcilable conflict, she finally realizes that whether an idea is right or wrong, good or bad, is immaterial. What is important is that individuals have the right to explore new ideas and the freedom to express them. She has learned she has the right to think. Her departure from her father's house is a clear metaphor that she has left oppressive, inflexible attitudes behind her. In her both Cates and Drummond see their victory.

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