Inherit the Wind
Act One, Scene II
Several days later, the prosecution (Brady and Davenport) and the defense (Drummond) interview townspeople to serve as members of the jury. The scene opens during of the prosecution’s questioning of a local man, Bannister. Davenport asks Bannister whether he attends church. Bannister answers, “Only on Sundays,” and Davenport approves him as a juror. Drummond asks Bannister whether he has read about evolution or Darwin, and whether he reads the Bible. Bannister says he is illiterate, and Drummond approves him as a juror.
Before the bailiff calls the next juror, Brady asks the judge if the people in the courtroom may remove their coats because of the heat. The judge agrees. When people remove their coats, Drummond’s bright purple suspenders are revealed, prompting hoots from the crowd. Brady asks Drummond if his suspenders reflect the latest fashions in Chicago. To Brady’s embarrassment, Drummond replies that he bought the suspenders in Brady’s Nebraska hometown.
The judge pounds his gavel and demands order. A man named Dunlap is next to be interviewed. Davenport asks Dunlap whether he believes in the Bible. Dunlap replies that he believes in the word of God and in Brady. The audience cheers Dunlap, and Davenport accepts him as a juror. Drummond, however, refuses Dunlap without questioning him. Brady objects. Drummond replies that he wouldn’t object to Brady dismissing an evolutionist as a juror. To go through the formality of questioning Dunlap, Drummond asks him, “How are you?” Dunlap replies “Kinda hot,” and Drummond again dismisses him.
Brady objects to Drummond’s levity. Although the judge doesn’t sustain Brady’s objection, he admits to agreeing with him. The judge addresses Brady as “Colonel Brady,” which prompts Drummond to object to Brady’s title on the grounds that he doesn’t know much about Brady’s record as a soldier. The judge explains that Brady received the title as an honor. Drummond claims that Brady’s title harms Cates’s case. The judge gestures to the mayor, who says that he can’t take back Brady’s honorary title but says he will temporarily grant Drummond the title of colonel as well.
The judge calls the court to order. A man named Sillers is next to be interviewed. Davenport asks Sillers whether he is religious, and Sillers claims to be as religious as anyone else in Hillsboro. Brady steps up and asks Sillers whether he has any children. Sillers replies that he does not. Brady outlines a hypothetical situation in which Sillers’s child came home describing a “Godless teacher.” Drummond objects, and the judge sustains the objection. Brady asks Sillers whether he has any opinions that might prejudice him in the case. Sillers says he knows Cates only as a customer, not personally. Brady accepts Sillers as a juror.
Drummond asks Sillers whether he puts much effort into religion. Sillers says he focuses on his job while his wife tends to religious matters for both of them. Drummond recasts Sillers’s response by suggesting that he takes care of the matters of life on earth while his wife prepares both of them for the afterlife. Davenport objects, and the judge sustains the objection. Drummond asks Sillers whether he has ever encountered a man named Charles Darwin. Sillers says he only lately heard of Darwin. Drummond asks Sillers whether he would have Darwin over for dinner. Brady begins to object, but Drummond cuts him off. Davenport also objects, but Drummond says he is trying to confirm that Sillers puts equally small effort into matters of religion and evolution. Sillers points out that he merely works at the feed store. Drummond approves him as a juror.
Brady starts to retract his approval of Sillers, but Drummond objects. Brady cites a previous case in which he claims that Drummond tricked the jury. Drummond counters that he is attempting to defend the Constitution against those who oppose progress. The judge points out that constitutional matters are decided in a federal court. Drummond says he has to defend the Constitution somewhere.
The judge declares both sides out of order, states that jury selection is complete, and reminds the audience that Reverend Brown is holding a prayer meeting that evening. Drummond objects, claiming that the reminder is unfair. The judge says he is not aware of a meeting of evolutionists. Drummond says that the “Read Your Bible!” banner should be countered with a “Read Your Darwin!” banner. The judge calls the idea preposterous and declares recess. A crowd follows Brady out of the courtroom.
Rachel implores Drummond to call off the trial and asks Cates to beg forgiveness. Drummond asks Cates what he wants to do, and Cates says that the trial resembles a circus. Drummond jokes about the case, and Rachel scolds him for making light of a grave situation. Drummond apologizes to Rachel and describes his respect for Cates. He says he will give up the case only if Cates honestly believes he did wrong. Cates wavers but then firmly states that he will continue to stand trial. Rachel protests, but Cates asks her to support him. Upset, Rachel admits that Brady may call her to testify against Cates. Cates is shocked. As Meeker leads him back to his cell, Cates cries out that the jury will “crucify” him if Rachel reveals the content of their private conversations.
Drummond and Rachel talk. Rachel says that Brady scares her less than her father, Reverend Brown. She recalls being frightened as a child because she never knew her mother and greatly feared her father. Rachel asks Drummond if Cates is evil. Drummond calls Cates a good man and encourages Rachel to lend Cates her support.
The man who has everything figured out is probably a fool. College examinations notwithstanding, it takes a very smart fella to say “I don’t know the answer!”
As in the first scene, the playwrights communicate some of the key thematic ideas of Inherit the Wind in its stage directions. As the scene opens on the courtroom, “[t]he shapes of the buildings are dimly visible in the background, as if Hillsboro itself were on trial.” Indeed, the drama of the courtroom scenes plays out against the ever-present backdrop of the town and its people. This rural, conservative, and religious Southern town opposes the members of the defense, who must struggle to gain a voice for their ideas—concepts that much of contemporary society accepts as elementary biology.
The three potential jurors in this scene are similar, typical townspeople of Hillsboro. None of them betrays strong convictions or exceptional intelligence. Although all of them profess to be Christians, none stand out on the basis of extraordinary faith. Bannister emphasizes his eagerness to watch the trial from the jury box, like a show. His illiteracy, like that of the mountain man Elijah, points to Hillsboro’s backwardness. Dunlap differentiates himself by professing membership in the Matthew Harrison Brady cult of personality, and Drummond rejects him on these grounds. Drummond’s interrogation of Sillers is the first sign that the religious faith of the Hillsboro townspeople may not run much deeper than simple conformity. When Sillers admits that he leaves religion to his wife, we see the townspeople’s Christianity in a new light. We know that people in Hillsboro go to church and profess a belief in God, but we now wonder whether such behavior may be mere formality paid as a price of citizenship in the town, a lip service empty of spiritual meaning. Drummond exposes Sillers’s flimsy religious faith by probing deeper than Brady or the other people of Hillsboro are capable. Sillers may not be an atheist or an agnostic like Drummond, but his convictions do not run deep.
This first courtroom scene highlights important differences between Brady and Drummond—in background, perspective, manners, and behavior—that recur in their interactions throughout the play. They serve as foils to each other, as each accentuates the distinct traits of the other. While Inherit the Wind as a whole explores an abstract conflict between religious fundamentalism and freedom of thought, the face-to-face conflict between the forceful personalities of Brady and Drummond lends this conflict a physical embodiment. Because the trial, in part, depends on the mood of the town and the opinions of its residents, each attorney attempts to win the audience’s respect, recognizing that the crowd will influence the judge and jury.
Brady tries to alienate Drummond from the courtroom crowd by harping on Drummond’s suspenders, attempting to cast him as a freak from the big city. But Drummond’s fashion choice proves to be premeditated, for he turns the tables on Brady by telling the crowd he bought the suspenders in Brady’s Nebraska hometown. This unexpected twist marks Brady’s first moment of embarrassment before a crowd that is predisposed to support him. Drummond continues to use this strategy—turning Brady’s own words and attitudes against him—to humorous and ironic effect throughout the trial.
Brady enters the trial with a distinct advantage. Reputed for his fundamentalist Christian principles, he receives a warm welcome from the townspeople and an honorary title from the mayor. Although Drummond argues that this title lends the prosecution an unfair symbolic advantage, his objection is laced with irony and humor. Whereas Brady clearly enjoys the meaningless distinction and celebrates it with a swollen sense of self-importance, Drummond chuckles when the judge reluctantly grants him a similar title. To Drummond, titles hold little significance in comparison to the reality of action and deed. Brady, however, leans on these titles for a sense of moral authority. Drummond’s ironic appropriation of Brady’s title is the second step in his humiliation of his opponent.
Drummond opposes the “commercial announcement” of the prayer meeting and the public signs commanding people to read their Bibles. Although this approach initially strikes the judge and the townspeople as preposterous, Drummond’s complaints ultimately make the townspeople reconsider the differences between secular Darwinism and officially endorsed Christianity. Although Drummond does not mention it explicitly, he points to one of the founding principles of American democracy—the separation of church and state. By demanding fair treatment for evolution theory under the law, Drummond plants in his listeners’ minds the idea that Christian authorities may not have a monopoly on the truth. He reemphasizes this point later in the trial by demonstrating the Bible’s inability to explain modern machinery.
After casting Drummond as the devil incarnate, Brady leaves the courtroom with tremendous public support. Brady departs like a “shepherd leading his flock” while Drummond leaves alone. But Drummond’s solitude does not faze him. Although he is vilified before the public, he remains confident in his convictions because he values his own search for truth over the opinions of the crowd. In contrast, Brady’s reliance on public support foreshadows his later collapse after his humiliation before the courtroom audience.
The scene closes with Rachel’s description of her relationship with her father, which provides insight into her fear for Cates and her efforts to convince him to confess his guilt. Rachel’s fear of her father originated in her early childhood and still runs deep. Given Reverend Brown’s position of authority in the community, Rachel has never been able to overcome her fear. Caught between the bond of family that dictates loyalty to her father and the budding love that pulls her toward Cates and his cause, Rachel suffers from fear and confusion. Her confession of fear of her father foreshadows his public disowning and damning of her in the next scene.
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