Inherit the Wind

by: Jerome Lawrence & Robert E. Lee

Matthew Harrison Brady

At the beginning of Inherit the Wind, Brady arrives pompously, confident that the trial is as good as won. Scornful of the threat that Drummond might present to him as the opposing attorney, Brady exhibits hubris, or excessive pride, in failing to consider the prospect of his own humiliation. Playing on his home turf in rural Christian Tennessee, Brady basks in the glow of his simple-minded supporters’ praise. When Drummond undermines Brady’s authority, Brady breaks down, for he lacks the inner strength to reconsider his own beliefs and adjust to an unexpected challenge.

We learn that Brady ran for president in three consecutive elections but never succeeded. This failure plagues him throughout his life and manifests itself during the trial. When Brady falls ill following his floundering responses to Drummond’s line of questioning, he deliriously spews forth the speech he had prepared for a possible presidential victory. Brady is a caricature of the real-life prosecutor William Jennings Bryan. Like Brady, Bryan lost three presidential elections and died shortly after the Scopes Monkey Trial. In Inherit the Wind, as in the national media in 1925, Brady’s / Bryan’s death symbolized the humiliation he suffered in the trial and the end of an obsolete brand of politics. Bryan was a Democrat, but in the decades after his death, his party took on a more progressive, liberal stance. Not that conservative elements disappeared from American politics—they now exist as tenets of the Republican party.

Although his politics and values are rigidly fundamentalist, Brady remains a complex character. Although he subscribes to a rather traditional brand of Christianity, he embraces more of the Bible than the Hillsboro preacher Reverend Brown does. When Brown harshly calls for eternal hellfire as punishment for Cates and all those who side with him—including even his own daughter—Brady interrupts Brown and reminds the crowd of the Christian doctrine of forgiveness. Brown’s version of Christianity, with its frequent casting out of sinners, is grounded in the harsher books of the Old Testament. Brady’s, on the other hand, recognizes the more compassionate elements of Jesus’ message and the possibilities that this compassion creates for mankind.