The town of Hillsboro is extremely homogenous. The citizens attend the same church, hold the same beliefs, and join together to condemn Bert Cates, a man who dared express an opinion different from theirs. In that sense, a limited perspective is dangerous to others, for anyone who the town deems different or an outsider is at risk for their very freedom. But limited perspective can also hurt oneself. On the witness stand, Brady refuses to give consideration to any of Drummond's questions about the inconsistencies in the Bible, finally saying "I do not think about things...that I do not think about." Brady's inability to consider different perspectives, to simply accept Christianity as it has been presented to him, makes him look ridiculous and results in his humiliation in the trial. It takes outsiders, like Drummond and Hornbeck, who hold different perspectives, to bring to light some of the unconsidered assumptions of the townspeople. The people of Hillsboro, with their limited perspective, are trapped in a world in which others' opinions are paramount. This is why Rachel urges Bert to confess, because the other townspeople all believe him to be wrong. Only when she searches outside of herself, looking for a perspective different from her previous assumptions, does she gain self-confidence and freedom.
Though the script of the play describes Hillsboro only as "a small town," it is without question a small Southern town. The original Scopes trial took place in Tennessee, and the dialects of the characters in the play support a reading of the town as Southern. In this Southern farming town, Drummond from Chicago and Hornbeck from Baltimore are very much outsiders, both as Northerners and city people. Hornbeck's desire to return to the city and Davenport's references to Drummond as "the gentleman from Chicago" indicate the great divide which exists between ways of life in the North and the South, between city and country. Brady, on the other hand, is originally from Nebraska and has preserved his small town roots, despite his government roles. The clash of the big-city Northerners intruding upon the small town and the Southerners desirous to solve their own problems without outsiders is symptomatic of the changing relationship between the country's regions in the twentieth-century. From Esterbrook's radio and the reporters, it is clear that new media will do much to erase the dividing lines between places and prevent the provincialist justice the Hillsboro court seeks.
Brady and the people of Hillsboro are fundamentalists in the religious sense they take the Bible literally, or as Brady says, "everything in the Bible should be accepted, exactly as it's given there." For Brady, then, fundamentalism means not only literal interpretation but also complete acceptance. Questioning the Bible or seeking new interpretations of it, for him, is unthinkable. In that sense, then, fundamentalism is at odds with intellectualism. Brady's fundamentalism means shutting down his mind, forcing himself not to undergo the natural human process of wondering at that which does not make sense. In choosing to interpret or accept the Bible as he does, he chooses not to think. Drummond, on the other hand, promotes intellectualism, finding the human mind sacred and arguing as the freedom of thought as a basic right. His intellectualism does not eschew spirituality by saying Brady looks for God too far away, he admits there may be a God somewhere else, closer by but rather eschews a religious tradition that does not celebrate thinking and questioning. Whereas a fundamentalist system condemns Cates' questions about God as blasphemous, Drummond's intellectual system sees his questioning as part of an ongoing process. This intellectualism, unlike Hornbeck's harsh cynicism, celebrates though for the possibilities it creates for understanding and for life in the world, even at the cost of the safety one feels with an unquestioned faith. It does not condemn religious per se but only the fundamentalist system of thought which does not admit to any perspectives beyond itself.
For Brady and for the residents of Hillsboro, including Rev. Brown, the answer is simple and orthodox. That which the Bible says is holy is holy the prophets, the recounted miracles, the book itself. Brady's recitation of the books of the Old Testament at the conclusion of his testimony is an obstinate example of this dogmatic approach to religion. To him, what is holy is a finite body of words and stories. For Drummond, however, the capacity for human thought is holy, more holy than any cathedral or shouted Hosannah's. He sees miracles in the progress of human knowledge, while Brady looks for them too far away and long ago. Drummond's conception of holiness is more of a spirituality than a religion, a belief in the sanctity of human thought rather than canonic writings assembled long ago. When Brady asks Drummond if anything is holy to him, his conception of "holy" means "off-limits," "beyond reproach," "unquestionable." For Drummond, holiness, however, is magnificence. That which is holy should be continually examined rather than locked away from human eyes.
According to Drummond, what is on trial in Hillsboro is a man's right to think. In their law against the teaching of evolution, the people of Hillsboro have not only dismissed a scientific theory but have in effect stated that they don't want to even consider and dismiss it for themselves. The judge's refusal to allow any expert testimony about evolution from the defense makes this clear; the people of Hillsboro do not want to even think about evolution. They are afraid of thinking about it, afraid of thinking. Rachel is a prime example of this fear of thought. At the beginning of the play, she does not want to worry about whether Bert's actions were right or wrong; she simply wants him to do what the rest of the town thinks is right. Only by the end, when she reads Darwin and makes the decision on her own to leave her father's house, does she realize the power of thinking. Neither she nor Howard is sure they accept Darwin they need to think more about it thus disproving the town's fear of hearing the unfamiliar and thus being forced to think about it. Only by thinking for herself can Rachel escape the control of her father and create a life for herself. From her, it is clear that free thought is not only important from an intellectual standpoint or because of the First Amendment but because it is necessary and valuable in human life. Without it, as Drummond says, no progress would ever be made not only in technology but emotionally as well.
When Brady asks his former friend Drummond how he has moved so far away from him, so that they stand apart on an issue of great importance, Drummond replies, "Perhaps it is you who have moved by standing still." Certainly, Brady with his enormous voice and great oratory is suited to an era past, speaking in town squares rather than on the new technology of the radio. Brady's inability to adapt to the radio in the courtroom so much that Esterbrook has to push him bodily in the right direction metaphorically reveals him to be ill-equipped for life in this new era. Drummond, in contrast, recognizes the benefits the increased audience of radio will bring to those like Cates who are ideological "outsiders" in small homogenous towns. But progress here also means progress of thought. Whereas Brady has learned the Bible and accepted it, for Cates thought and understanding of the complex world around is an ongoing process. Drummond makes clear the value of minds like Cates', without which all manner of progress, form the telephone to women's suffrage, has been accomplished. To hold to one position without ever reconsidering or moving forward, as Brady does, is defeatist.
In many ways, and certainly in the way it was publicized, Inherit the Wind is a clash of personalities, of individuals with strong conceptions of themselves and how they are perceived by others. Brady, for example, depends on his role as a "great man" and famous American, organizing photo ops with the mayor and minister as soon as he gets off the train and with a speech prepared for every occasion. Hornbeck, however, relishes his role as a cynic, even when his sympathetic writing about Cates reveals to Rachel that his cynicism is very much an assumed role. Drummond, too, relishes his role as defender of right, taking a case not for the money but for the issues and ideals at stake. In contrast to them is someone like Rachel, who has little conception of her self beyond what others, like her father, tell her, and even Cates, who needs to be reassured that he is doing something good by standing up for what he has taught. Only when she begins to think on her own, arriving at an understanding of herself, can Rachel gain enough self-worth to act autonomously. When the need to accord self-conception with self-worth is unsuccessful, however, the results can be bad. Brady's half-conscious recitation of his never-used Inaugural Address reveals the effect being an also-ran, in effect a perpetual electoral loser, has had on his self-worth. When his conception of himself as the most powerful man in the room begins to crumble when the crowd talks and radio man leaves during his speech Brady's fears about his self-worth are revealed.
At the end of the play, Hornbeck condemns the now-dead Brady for his bigotry and closed-mindedness. Drummond, however, is less quick to dismiss Brady's values and opinions. He alone realizes that the ideal for which he has been fighting free speech and thought requires that all be allowed to express their opinions, however much one might disagree with them. Hornbeck's liberal certainty is in effect as bigoted as Brady's fundamentalist railings. Any person or community that entertains only a single possibility risks discriminating against anyone who disagrees with them. Certainly, the people of Hillsboro's refusal to hear any perspectives on evolution beyond their own is destructive to Cates. But, in a larger sense, Drummond makes clear that all innovation and realization from Copernicus to the telephone comes from someone who has considered different perspectives.
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1. Both Lawrence and Lee's Inherit the Wind with Arthur Miller's The Crucible are frequently interpreted as parables of the anti-Communist frenzy of McCarthyism. Compare and contrast the two dramas, assessing the evidence each play gives that either supports or detracts from such an interpretation. Why do Lawrence and Lee and Miller look to America's past to communicate messages about their own context?
>Both Inherit the Wind and The Crucible depict their historical inspirations-the Scopes Monkey Trial and the Salem Witch Trials, respectively-in ways that mirror the 1950s McCarthy anti-Communist hearings. For example, some of Salem's citizens in Miller's Crucible are pressured to "name names" of supposed witches, just as witnesses who testified before Sen. McCarthy's committee were pressured to "name names" of Communists, and John Proctor, the protagonist of Miller's play, goes to his death rather than sign his name to a declaration that he is guilty of witchcraft. Similarly, some of the witnesses in the Hillsboro courtroom-young Howard for one, Rachel Brown for another-are pressured by Brady to reveal information about Cates that could damage his reputation (for instance, Rachel is pressured to reveal Cates' reaction to the sermon at Tommy Stebbins' funeral), and Cates himself, not unlike Proctor, is worried about his name, but ultimately believes he is innocent. Both plays illustrate the manipulation of religion to divide people from each other (the courts in Salem act in the name of God no less than the supposedly more civilized court in Hillsboro, at which the Judge feels free to advertise the Rev. Brown's prayer meeting). Furthermore, both plays depict the unthinking ways in which panic and fear can prey on populations; the citizens of Lawrence and Lee's Hillsboro are less violent than their counterparts in Miller's Salem, to be sure, but parallels exist (for example, Brady's use of Howard's testimony to appeal to the citizens' fear that what Cates has taught will undermine civic and personal morality). Both plays make points about their authors' present by reaching for source material from the past to drive home the point that, while external circumstances will differ, the internal human dynamics will not; as Drummond asks Cates in Act III, "You don't suppose this kind of thing is ever finished, do you?"
2. Interpret the title of the play. How is it applicable to the characters and subject matter? Why might Lawrence and Lee have chosen it as the title? What is ironic about its use?
As noted in this study guide, the title of the play is drawn from Proverbs 11:29: "He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart" (KJV). It occurs twice in the script: first, Brady uses it to admonish the Rev. Brown when he zealously prays condemnation on his daughter, who has urged compassion for Cates. Brady seems to be telling the Rev. Brown that such a prayer is "troubling his own house" and cannot result in good; it is, therefore, an appeal for moderation of the Rev. Brown's zeal at this point. Significantly, only the first half of the verse appears at this juncture. In Act III, however, Drummond recites the entire verse as a kind of "eulogistic" summing up of the late Brady's life when Hornbeck suggests that, by quoting it earlier, Brady had written his own obituary. In this instance, Brady would be foolish by troubling the "house" of the nation in his crusade against Darwinism. Brady, in death, has "inherited the wind"-that is, received nothing-because he has rejected the truth in favor of falsehood (the "pleasant poetry of Genesis," Act II, Sc. 2). Lawrence and Lee may have chosen this title because it points to what is, in their eyes, the futility of resisting progress and the power of the human mind; those who embrace these things, however, stand vindicated as "the wise of heart." It is an ironic title because, after all, it is drawn from the Bible-what Hornbeck savagely calls "his book," meaning Brady's (Act III)-the book that is ostensibly under attack throughout the Hillsboro trial. In drawing a title from it, however, the playwrights may be acknowledging that it contains wisdom, but only if properly interpreted; as Drummond says, "The Bible is a book. A good book. But it is not the only book" (Act II, Sc. 2).
3. Evaluate the character of Hornbeck. What is his function in the play? Does he emerge, ultimately, as a positive or a negative character, and why?
>Students' responses will vary based on their readings of the play, and essays should contain specific references to the text in order to support their arguments. In this author's judgment, Hornbeck emerges ultimately as a negative character. Drummond's angry rejection of Hornbeck in Act III-"You never pushed a noun against a verb except to blow up something"-suggests that he finds Hornbeck just as guilty as Brady of refusing to pursue the truth, that quest that is of ultimate worth and value in Drummond's eyes; rather, Hornbeck is more interested in attacking and criticizing. Readers should note, as this study guide has noted, the hints, albeit humorously delivered, of satanic imagery surrounding Hornbeck in Act I, Sc. 1-e.g., "Don't worry. I'm not the serpent, Little Eva. / This isn't from the Tree of Knowledge." He clearly treats Hillsboro-"the buckle on the Bible belt" (Act I, Sc. 1)-and its citizens with contempt and views the whole proceedings as a circus. The fact that they in fact are does not in itself justify Hornbeck's constantly sarcastic and contemptuous view of the people involved, a view that Drummond does not share; he, in the clearest example, is able to acknowledge greatness in Brady, because it is the greatness of a man-as he says, "A giant once lived in that body" (Act III)-who stood by his convictions as surely as Drummond did his own. Hornbeck, for his part, seems to have no convictions beyond the desire for a good story, material that will allow him to craft a "symphony of words" (Act I, Sc. 1). Functionally, Hornbeck serves for Inherit the Wind a purpose not unlike that of the Greek chorus in ancient drama, commenting on and interpreting the action. Hornbeck, of course, is much more involved in the drama itself than the Greek chorus traditionally was.
4. The trial of Bertram Cates raises questions regarding the proper role of education and the rightful duty of teachers. What role for education and educators does Inherit the Wind put forth, and how similar or dissimilar is the play's approach to educational philosophies with which you are familiar?
>Inherit the Wind implicitly commends Cates for being willing to share new ideas with his students and for encouraging them to think for themselves. As he tells Rachel, "They were questions, Rache. I was just asking questions" (Act I, Sc. 2). In the same scene, Drummond tells Rachel, "The man who has everything figured out is probably a fool." As the trial begins, young Howard testifies, when asked if he believes everything that Cates "told" (note that the verb used is not "taught") him, "I'm not sure. I gotta think it over," to which Drummond replies, "Good for you" (Act II, Sc. 2). The consistent view of the play is that new ideas are not to be feared and knowledge is not to be rejected out of hand because it contradicts the received wisdom of the past. This view suggests that education is not the bare imparting of facts, and it is not ensuring mastery of a pre-selected list of standards that can be objectively measured; rather, the function of education is to cultivate a lively pattern of thought, and educators should raise as many questions, if not more, as they answer. Essays' responses to this view of education will vary based on students' experiences and personal convictions.
5. Based on Inherit the Wind, what, if any, is the proper relationship between science and religion? Do you agree with this view? Explain.
>Students can refer to earlier portions of these notes to see instances in which a positive relationship between science and religion is suggested-for example, the symbolic gesture discussed above of Drummond weighing and packing the Bible and The Origin of Species together in his case at the end of Act III; or his question of Brady in Act II, Sc. 2, "How can you be so cocksure that the body of scientific knowledge systematized in the writings of Charles Darwin is, in any way, irreconcilable with the spirit of the Book of Genesis?" (emphasis added). Such moments in the play hint that religion and science do not have to exist in opposition to each other. On the whole, however, it can be argued that religion and science are irreconcilable antagonists throughout the script, personified in the characters of Brady and Drummond, respectively. Note, for example, Drummond's positively hagiographic characterization of Darwin in Act II, Sc. 2: "Darwin moved us forward to a hilltop, where we could look back and see the way from which we came. But for this view, this insight, this knowledge, we must abandon our faith in the pleasant poetry of Genesis." The play never substantively considers ways in which that "pleasant poetry" may, in fact, express truths that lie behind the physical processes of evolution that can be scientifically explained. It never treats the idea that science answers "how" questions about life while religion answers "why" questions. Instead, the play is content-and perhaps properly so, given the obstacles Darwinism faced (and continues to face) as well as the historic context of McCarthyism in which the playwrights wrote-to "deflate" its generally authoritarian, bullying, closed-minded religious characters. Drummond does, however, make reference to reason as the one, God-given faculty that sets human beings apart from the rest of creation-a belief shared by much classic Judeo-Christian theology. The bare bricks of constructing a positive relationship between science and religion are present in the script, even if they are not used to their fullest potential. Students' own assessments of the proper relationship between these two human fields of knowledge will vary based on their experiences and personal convictions.