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Inherit the Wind | Study Guide

Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee

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Inherit the Wind | Symbols


Golden Dancer

At the beginning of Act 3, Henry Drummond tells Bertram Cates the story of Golden Dancer. This was a rocking horse, painted in gold, that Drummond had seen when he was a boy and fallen in love with. He thought it was the most beautiful thing in the world. When his parents finally bought it for him, however, it split in two the moment he climbed on it. He uses it as a metaphor for anything that is "all shine, and no substance," whether it's an idea or a person or a promise. He tells Cates to beware of such things, and that if he discovers that something is a lie, "to show it up for what it really is."


On the day that the verdict is going to be announced, a radio man sets up broadcasting equipment in the courtroom. The radio immediately becomes a symbol of the mass communication that is beginning to change how the country delivers, receives, and responds to its news. Brady initially sees the radio as a way to carry his words to an audience greater than he could ever have imagined. He later realizes it is the tool that broadcasts his defeat at the hands of Drummond. Mass media may also have been the reason the politicians at the state capitol wanted a light sentence for Cate. Coverage of the trial had become big news across the nation, and a more severe sentence would have made them appear unenlightened to the rest of the country.


Throughout the play, the authors mention the heat. The first day "promises to be a scorcher," the temperature in the courtroom during jury selection is 97 degrees, and the day of the trial is as "relentlessly hot" as before. The weather in this way becomes a symbol of the intense scrutiny the town and the defendant are under, which both literally and figuratively makes everyone sweat. The heat also ties in nicely with Hornbeck's original greeting to Drummond: "Hello, Devil. Welcome to Hell." Hell, in this case, is the ignorance and provincial attitudes that have put Cates in jail and made the townspeople themselves squirm uncomfortably in the literal and figurative heat as their rigid beliefs are undermined by the person they consider to be the Devil.

The Bible and On the Origin of Species

The clearest symbols in the play, these two books represent two different but not necessarily conflicting beliefs. The Bible represents belief in God and adherence to religion and faith. Darwin's On the Origin of Species represents scientific inquiry and progressive thought. Many characters in the play see the two as irreconcilable, but even Cates, early in the play, says that Darwin's theory simply suggests that "living comes from a long miracle, it didn't just happen in seven days." That is exactly the argument Drummond uses to "win" his case, and it reflects his own beliefs as well. When he "weighs" the two books side by side and then places them in his briefcase, his actions are a symbolic statement that the books are two halves of the same truth.

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